Do I Choose to Protect My Health or My Wealth

By Somia Maati

On March 11, 2020, Covid-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization. The covid-19 pandemic has infected more than 6,794,738 people and has killed 77,157 people in New York City alone. However, this deadly respiratory disease has not only taken a detrimental toll on people’s health but also on people’s lives. After the pandemic declaration, people were put on lockdown: people weren’t allowed to leave their homes unless they were essential workers or to get necessary housing needs. However, can people afford this decision? 

Financial Disparities during Covid-19 

The United States has been built on white supremacy ideals that have led to many generations of structural and institutional racism. These ideals have continued to leave low-income and ethnic populations more disadvantaged as compared to higher socioeconomic white people. These disadvantages were especially brought up during the Covid-19 pandemic. The first major disadvantage was in terms of financial responsibilities. Lockdown led to many people staying at home unable to attend their jobs: their main source of income. While for some this was a comfortable transition, for many it was a financial burden. 

Figure 1. Ethnic populations had  a higher percentage of adults with financial stress compared to white people. They weren’t able to afford basic necessities and items that became crucial, especially around the time of Covid-19 (NYC Health).

Hello? Can you hear me?– Internet Access Disparities

One of the items that grew to be crucial around the time of Covid-19 is internet use. Schools, work, and extracurriculars all made a transition to an online platform to keep functioning despite the lockdown resulting in a significant increase in internet use. Eventually, this increase in demand led to the Internet being one of the major financial stressors as seen in Figure 1. However, some populations didn’t have any internet access, to begin with. A study was conducted to observe the disparities in internet access found in different New York City neighborhoods, they found that “Among zip codes in New York City, the median percentage of households without internet access was 15.5% (SD, 6.7%), ranging from 0% (zip code 10282, Battery Park City, Manhattan) to 32.4% (zip code 10454, Mott Haven/Port Morris, the Bronx)” (Michaels et al.). The population of households without internet access in lower-income neighborhoods is almost double the population of households without internet access in higher-income neighborhoods. 

Figure 2. Due to disparities in internet access, there are fewer Black/Latino and lower income individuals that have the privilege to work from home during the pandemic. (NYC Health)

I can’t miss my train – Financial Burdens and Subway Use 

As you can imagine, with many financial stressors people are inclined to find jobs or to continue going to work. One major method of transportation in New York City is the subway and despite warnings to minimize social interactions, people were inclined to use the subway for the sake of financially maintaining their homes. A study was done to observe the effect of socioeconomic factors on human mobility and Covid-19 burden, the findings demonstrate that “Areas with lower median income, a greater percentage of individuals who identify as non-white and/or Hispanic/Latino, a greater percentage of essential workers, and a greater percentage of healthcare workers had more subway use during the pandemic” (Sy et al.). Subway use could not be ideally reduced as these populations continued to attend work at the cost of their health and safety.

Figure 3. People of color and neighborhoods with higher rates of poverty were most likely to continue using the subway system despite subway use being discouraged and increasing the chances of Covid-19 exposure. (NYC Health).

Health Disparities during Covid-19 

With many disadvantages faced it became difficult to survive in the pandemic, especially in terms of health. Researchers attempted to observe the connection between socioeconomic conditions and Covid-19 risk by using ZIP-code level Covid-19 case and death data from the NYC Department of Health, demographic and socioeconomic data from the American Community Survey, and health data from the Centers for Disease Control’s 500 Cities Project. They found that “COVID-19 case and death rates for majority Black, Hispanic and Other-type minority communities are between 24% and 110% higher than those in majority White communities.” (Do and Frank)

No Appointment, No Vaccine – Internet Access Disparities cont. 

Internet access disparities did not just harm populations financially but also in terms of preventative health. When the vaccine was initially distributed among the public its supply was very limited. People were only allowed access to the vaccine by making appointments online; despite offering prioritization to the working class and disadvantaged populations, the populations with higher risk, this approach provided an advantage and almost prioritization to higher socioeconomic groups. The research established by Micheals and his research group observed the link between internet access and people with at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. They noticed a negative association between households without internet access and the percentage of adults who received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. In simple words, people who did not have access to the internet were more likely to have not had access to the vaccine (Michaels et al.).

Who’s in the Hospital? – Increased Hospitalizations among lower socioeconomic people. 

Throughout the pandemic white people have had food and home security, increasing their chances of avoiding Covid-19 exposure. However, due to systematic racism and a capitalistic system that doesn’t support low-income households, people of color and high poverty had fewer resources available to them, therefore increasing their chances of getting Covid-19. A study was carried out to view the socioeconomic status of Covid-19 patients and they found that, “ Among 23,300 community dwelling COVID-19 patients, 60.7% were from neighborhoods with disadvantaged social conditions (top SDI quintile), although these neighborhoods only account for 34% of overall population”: the top SDI quintile consisted of patients that are “older (median age 55 vs. 53, P<0.001), more likely to be black (23.1% vs. 6.4%, P<0.001) or Hispanic (25.4% vs. 8.5%, P<0.001), and more likely to have chronic conditions (e.g., diabetes: 21.9% vs. 10.5%, P<0.001)” (Zhang et al.). While it is possible that some people avoided getting hospitalized, the number of people of color that were hospitalized was still significantly greater than more advantaged people. 

Taking everything into account, not everyone during the Covid-19 was able to protect themselves from the pandemic and its effect on people’s daily lives. People of color and/or high poverty found themselves unable to survive/ barely survive this pandemic as a result of the increased financial burdens, demand for housing, and other things that suddenly became a demand. These sudden demands left people with the most inhumane question: do I choose to protect my health or my wealth?