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Saturday, January 30, 2021

Same Storm, Different Boats

RCSD families, students, and staff want to go back to school in person and want to do so safely. Will that be possible this year? Is there a number of educator or student deaths that we are willing to accept in order to have in-person school? Are RCSD, the city, and the state willing to spend the money to make school reopening truly safe? These questions are of particular concern in Rochester, where 87% of students and 40% of staff are Black, Latinx, multi-racial, or Native American.The consequences of racist health care, discriminatory housing, and employment practices are that these students, staff, and their families are at greater risk of contracting and becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.


We’re all in this together is a common slogan during this crisis. What this platitude fails to acknowledge is that, while we may all be in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. The United States is at an unprecedented moment of overlap between a global pandemic, deep economic recession, and an uprising for Black Lives that exposes the structural race and class fissures that have resulted in higher unemployment, exposure, infection, and death rates in Black and Brown poor communities.


Unsurprisingly, the data is increasingly showing that Black and Latinx Rochestarians account for disproportionate COVID-19 cases or deaths. Latinx residents, 20% of the population, have accounted for 45% of COVID-19 cases and Black residents, 39% of the population, have accounted for 43% of the deaths. Black and Latinx communities are more likely to experience economic and social factors that increase risk of illness and death. Below are just some examples:
  • More likely to live in high-density housing (making social distancing difficult), because of decades of residential housing segregation caused by institutional racism. 8.8% of Rochester children were homeless at one point during the 2016-17 school year. 75% of homeless students in Monroe County are in the city of Rochester. 78% of homeless students in Monroe County were living with friends or family, also known as “doubled up”.
  • More likely to live in multi-generational households, increasing the risk of infection of vulnerable older family members. Such living situations also make it more difficult to isolate if an individual gets sick, as space may be limited. In Rochester, 86% of all virus fatalities had underlying health conditions.
  • More likely to live further away from medical centers and to be uninsured, leading to poorer underlying health and barriers to care, increasing the likelihood of severe illness and death from COVID-19. For example, Black, Latinx, and Native American individuals are more likely to have chronic illnesses such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease — all of which are linked to higher COVID-19 fatality.
  • When employed, more are likely to be required to work outside the home in “essential” jobs that place them in harm’s way for infection. For example, although Black workers make up only 12% of all employed workers, they make up 36% of all nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides.
  • More likely to have a job without paid sick leave, increasing their exposure to other workers who may be infected, and increasing the likelihood that they themselves will expose others to COVID-19. Latinx workers are less likely to have access to paid leave compared to White workers.
  • More likely to rely on public transportation, increasing the risk of viral exposure.
  • More likely to live in areas with poorer environmental and air quality, increasing the likelihood of preexisting health conditions. Rochester’s children are diagnosed with asthma at a high rate; 20% of RCSD students have been diagnosed with it, compared to less than 8% of school-age children that have asthma nationally.
  • Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for most governmental relief funds, and ineligible to enroll in the Affordable Care Act. More than 5 million U.S.-born children who have undocumented-immigrant parents are likely to suffer extreme poverty. As a result, they are much more likely to be uninsured and thus more likely not to receive the health care they need.
  • Over 4,000 (17%) of RCSD students are English Learners (ELs). While many ELs are native born, they overwhelmingly come from immigrant families. In addition to similar healthcare context as undocumented immigrants, EL’s families face added difficulties in poor translation or no translation in their native language.
  • The rate of COVID-19 cases among Black people in Monroe County is 4 times that of White people
  • The rate of COVID-19 cases among Latinx people is 2.5 times that of White people
  • Black and Latinx people are more than twice as likely than White people to die from COVID-19

The effect on human lives is quantifiable: the disproportionate effect of coronavirus means that at least twice as many Black, Latinx, and Asian Americans died because of structural racism that puts them more at risk compared to White people. Continuing the phased restart of physical schools during the pandemic will inevitably increase the risk of infection and death for all Rochesterarians, but especially for over 25,000 RCSD students and families who fall into a vulnerable category because of race and/or poverty.