For the past nine years, Jessica Tucker has earned $ 7.50 an hour from a large laundry in Greeneville, Mississippi, which works for several hospitals in the state and in neighboring Louisiana and Arkansas. Even at normal times, it’s a very stressful job. The approximately 100 employees, most of them African-American, wash and sort dirty laundry in a damp, poorly ventilated room that is prone to water ingress.
When the Mississippi coronavirus forced its economy to shutdown in early March, Tucker and her colleagues were classified as indispensable workers. This meant that they still had to report to work. But the laundry company had only taken a few additional precautions to ensure its safety, says Tucker: distance rules had not been enforced, and the employees had to buy their own face mask and disposable gloves.
Now they fear that they will catch the virus on the sheets that are delivered daily with blood, feces and urine stains. “People say it’s a blessing to work, but it’s a risk,” says 41-year-old Tucker. “We have family and we would rather be at home like everyone else who is in quarantine.”
When riots broke out in the United States in response to George Floyd’s death on May 25, anger over police brutality was also fueled by a smoldering feeling of injustice in the effects of the corona virus. Not only do blacks have died from the disease in disproportionate numbers: there are also first signs that they will bear the brunt of the economic consequences.
The fact that black workers in occupations that are considered to be systemically relevant, e.g. overrepresented in public transportation and healthcare is just one reason the Afro-American community has been hit so hard by the worst modern pandemic. A profound inequality in access to health care, a high rate of poverty and cramped living conditions have made the virus particularly lethal for people of color.
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“They have disadvantaged people with below-average access to healthcare and below-average finances, a population just waiting to explode,” said Chad Ricks, pastor and nurse, who runs a Covid-19 state hospital in California. “Then you have an illness that affects the black and brown worst. I think she made the situation worse. It’s a bad soup. “
A recent study by the APM research laboratory found that coronavirus mortality was 2.6 times higher than that of whites. In the United States, nearly 22,000 blacks have died from the corona virus, which is about a quarter of the total deaths, although according to the APM, they only make up about 13 percent of the population. 13,000 blacks would still be alive if mortality were the same as that of white Americans.
“Nothing we see here should come as a surprise,” said Valerie Wilson, economist at the Economic Policy Institute think tank, which has published an analysis of the effects of the virus on African Americans. “If you closely monitor these inequalities across generations, you can almost predict how each crisis will develop.”
Tucker says she and her laundry staff are “very concerned” about the risk of contracting the corona virus, and adds that before the corona outbreak, an employee caught a staph infection from a stack of dirty sheets. “They say we are an indispensable workforce, but we are not paid extra to risk our lives.”