Racial divide over COVID-19 persists as US restrictions ease

Recent polls show blacks and Hispanics are still far more cautious in their approach to COVID-19 than white Americans, reflecting differing preferences on how to deal with the pandemic as federal, state and local restrictions take a back seat .

Despite most U.S. adults generally favoring measures like mandatory masks, public health experts said divisions among racial groups reflect not only the pandemic’s unequal impact on people of color, but also apathy among some white Americans. .

Black Americans (63%) and Hispanics (68%) are still more likely than white Americans (45%) to say they are at least somewhat concerned about themselves or a family member infected with COVID, according to an April report. -nineteen. Associated Press-NORC Public Affairs Research Center survey.

Throughout the pandemic, blacks and Hispanics have seen higher rates of COVID-related cases and deaths, according to Amelia Burke-Garcia, director of the public health program at NORC. The experience has led to higher levels of stress, anxiety and awareness of the risks of contracting COVID-19, she said, meaning people of color are more likely to feel the need for measures like mandatory masks.

“We have seen these trends continue throughout the pandemic,” Burke-Garcia said. “What we’re seeing now that easing measures are being lifted is that black Americans and Hispanics are still very concerned about the risk of getting sick.”

Seventy-one percent of black Americans say they are in favor of mandatory masks for people traveling on planes, trains and other forms of public transportation. That’s more than the 52% of white Americans who support mandatory travel masks; 29% of white Americans are against. Among Hispanics, 59% are in favor, 20% are against. The poll was taken before a federal judge’s decision overturned the government’s mandate to wear masks for travelers.

In Indiana, Tuvanna Plant said she sees fewer and fewer masked people in public, though she says she has always tried to wear masks. Plant, who is black, said she sees people treating the pandemic like it’s over and she wants the mask mandate to continue.

Plant, the 46-year-old sous chef, said she had some concerns about getting the vaccine and took all other precautions, such as cleaning and a mask, to avoid getting sick, but was recently hospitalized with COVID-19.

The experience frightened her — she already had a lung condition and knew family members who had died from COVID-19. She said she plans to get vaccinated as soon as she can.

“I called my kids while I was in the emergency room,” Plant said. “I didn’t know…whether it would be better or worse, I didn’t know. So it was an experience for me overall.”

Dr. Celine Gunder, infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist and editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News, said people’s life experiences profoundly influence how they perceive the pandemic. Anecdotes and personal experiences can have a bigger impact on behavior than numbers, she says, and people of color are more likely to have had negative health experiences before and during the pandemic.

While new drugs and vaccines have made it easier to treat COVID-19, Gaunder said many people still face systemic barriers to accessing this care. Others are at risk of losing their jobs, or being unable to take time off if they get sick, or unable to avoid things like public transportation to reduce exposure, she said.

“When people claim that they don’t have to wear a mask on an airplane, it means a very different thing for someone who has access to all these innovations than it does for someone without health insurance who is struggling to take care of an elderly person. parents and their children who may be a single mother working at a job where she does not have paid sick leave and family sick leave,” Gonder said. “It’s just a completely different calculation.”

In January, an AP-NORC poll found that blacks and Hispanics are more likely than white Americans to believe certain things are necessary to come back to life without feeling the risk of infection. For example, 76% of black Americans and 55% of Hispanics said the return to normal life required most people to regularly wear masks in public, compared to 38% of white Americans.

Last month, an AP-NORC poll found that blacks and Hispanics, 69% and 49%, are more likely than white Americans, 35%, to say they always or often wear a mask in the presence of others.

Lower support for mask-wearing requirements and other precautions among white Americans may also reflect less sensitivity to what is happening in communities of color. In a 2021 study of mask wearing at the start of the pandemic, researchers found that mask wearing among white people increased when white people died more often in the surrounding community. When blacks and Hispanics died, there was less use of masks.

Berkeley Franz, co-author of the paper, said that in addition to residential segregation that separates white people from people of color, past research has shown that white people can be ambivalent about policies that they think mostly help people of color.

“Anti-blackness is really pervasive and has huge implications, both in terms of the policies that are being pursued and in terms of what is not being pursued,” Franz said. “White people can still do truly racist acts without seeing themselves as such and without understanding the consequences. This is largely covert and unintentional, but has huge implications in terms of fairness.”

Communities of color also perceive the risk of a pandemic differently than their white counterparts, said Michael Niño, a professor of sociology at the University of Arkansas who co-authored a paper on race, gender and camouflage during the pandemic.

“Disguise is relatively cheap, effective and easy to do,” he said. “This does not require any government response. These broader histories of racism and sexism in the United States certainly form some of the patterns we are seeing.”

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