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WA COVID-19 Cases Down, But Racial Disparities Exposed

Hispanic and African-American populations in King County make up a disproportionate number of confirmed coronavirus cases. (H_Ko/Adobe Stock)
Hispanic and African-American populations in King County make up a disproportionate number of confirmed coronavirus cases. (H_Ko/Adobe Stock)
May 21, 2020

SEATTLE -- While cases of coronavirus are going down in Washington state, racial disparities increasingly are being laid bare.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, white people are 68% of the state's population, but make up 43% of cases. Meanwhile, 13% of the state is Hispanic, but represent 36% of cases. And African-Americans are 4% of the population, but 7% of cases.

Sara Bekele, a policy associate at the Economic Opportunity Institute, says essential workers disproportionately are people of color, faced with greater economic insecurity.

"They actually face quite a grim choice: either to expose themselves daily to the virus, or to lose their job, and their ability to meet their needs and pay for a roof over their heads," she explains.

Bekele maintains structural racism is a major reason people of color are more likely to be exposed to and contract the virus. She points to historical factors such as redlining that restricted some people to low-resource areas. Then, they struggled to access the financial capital to invest in their communities, making it harder to create more resilient neighborhoods.

Because of the historical restrictions on where people of color could live, Bekele says environmental factors contribute to COVID-19 disparities.

"They're also more likely to live near factories and heavily polluted areas that create chronic health conditions," she points out. "And they're also more likely to live in food deserts. These are all factors that could put people more at risk for complications from the coronavirus."

But Bekele says exposing these issues could help change policies.

"COVID-19 highlights the weaknesses of our public policies and choices, and gives us a chance to rebuild our economy, more equitably and more able to meet future challenges," she states.

Disclosure: Economic Opportunity Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Livable Wages/Working Families, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA