COVID-19 is Disproportionately Killing Poor People

By Tim Nafziger

The latest analysis of fatalities in Italy caused by is that “more than 75% had high blood pressure, about 35% had diabetes and a third suffered from heart disease.”*

This takes the socio-political implications of COVID-19 to a whole new disturbing level. It means that people who don’t care about poor people (who are disproportionately impacted by diabetes and high blood pressure**) and chronically ill people may well decide that they can take the same attitude as spring breakers in Miami who say “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.”*** While the reality is that anyone could die from this disease, some of us have much better survival odds than others.

Take a minute to let that sink in. This disease could well become a Rorschach test for people’s ability to compassionately and ethically act for the common good. Unfortunately, we have lots of experience as a society on where this path can lead In a recent article on our “social immune system,” Douglas Rushkoff quoted a wealthy “California tech investor as saying: “As long as everyone else gets vaccinated, my kid doesn’t have to.”****

The new revelations about who COVID-19 kills also fits the pattern that we’ve seen with climate change so far: poor countries and poor people are hurt way more than those of us with resources. And this pattern is likely going to continue. This is a dry run for these disaster cycles that are going to continue to happen. All of us who care about a human future for humans need to be thinking deeply and collectively about the COVID-19 patterns we see in ourselves, in our community and in the world. 

My friend Mark Van Steenwyk puts it better than I can:

I think this is just the beginning of a much deeper story of our civilization. It is a tipping point that will intensify the various forces already at play in our world. Some nations will go deeper down the path of neofascism. Others will imagine a bolder post-capitalist way forward. New religious movements will emerge. Many will be stuck in the past, hoping things go back to the way they were. 

But this is a rupture. A rupture in our constructed realities, exposing what lies underneath. May we discern, together, the movement of the Spirit of Life so that we might create a new, more compassionate world, with one another.”

How we’re doing so far

We can’t talk about the response in the US to the pandemic without talking about the most visible (and perhaps most powerful) grassroots movement in the US today: Trumpism.

I know that many of us are deeply tired of watching videos of Trump, but I had an epiphany while watching Trump’s latest tantrum in the time of plague last week. He is responding to a reporter asking him to reassure the American publish. Go ahead and watch the video (its very short).

There is a segment of Trump’s base that feels HOPE and reassurance when they watch him bully someone, which is exactly what the journalist is asking him about. The abysmal testing rates and other lackluster responses don’t matter to them nearly as much as the deep and abiding sense they have that Trump is fighting on their side.

And I think this offers a deep insight into how Trump operates: he intuitively understands how to play the role of the reassuring strong man (in the caudillo tradition) in a way that no US president since the invention of radio has done so well. In times of crisis, many of us are drawn to that. And I say US because I think it is something that all humans (at least those of us who are unrooted) are susceptible to at some level.

Those of us who watch this video and cringe are fundamentally NOT Trump’s audience. He could not care less what we think. And THAT is what makes him so effective as a right wing populist.

How well that style will work for him through this pandemic remains to be seen, but the underlying politics of who is most vulnerable to this pandemic and Trump’s bullying of the marginalized is a potentially explosive combination.

Update 3/24/2020: In the last few days, right-wing websites have begun “weighing the pros and cons of letting people die from coronavirus to help the economy.”

*Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-18/99-of-those-who-died-from-virus-had-other-illness-italy-says

**Source for correlation between high blood pressure and poverty: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/high-blood-pressure-now-condition-of-poverty/

***Source for morally atrocious comments from Spring breakers: https://boingboing.net/2020/03/18/what-me-coronavirus-worry-me.html

 

****See “Why America Is Playing Vaccine Roulette What the great vaccination debate reveals about our social immune system” – https://gen.medium.com/why-america-is-playing-vaccine-roulette-706c8f230492

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