It has been a year since the Covid-19 virus interrupted and changed our lives forever. The virus attacked not only our bodies but every aspect of our lives, our livelihoods, our children’s care and education, our ability to gather, to even kiss our grandparents.
A virus attacks the bodies of those who are most vulnerable, who have the least strong and healthy immune systems, but most critically those with “pre-morbidity.” In humans, pre-morbidity relates to conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and so forth that exist before the invasion of a physical disease such as the Covid virus. Pre-morbidity is the state of functionality of the individual prior to the onset of the new disease or illness.
The Covid-19 virus has taken a great toll on America. More than 500,000 have died, thousands of others have been sickened and must live with the lasting effects of the virus. Socially, mental health problems are pervasive, as well as increasing levels of domestic and gun violence. Like organs in the body attacked by the virus, every segment of American life -- education, religion, transport, entertainment, sports, tourism, but most critically the economy, employment, and food security – have been infected. The extent to which the virus could be destructive in American society depended upon the existence of pre-existing conditions, the pre-morbidity which made the virus so successful.
America’s vast incidence of pre-morbidity lies in its historical inequality. While America is one of the world’s wealthiest countries and boasts of democracy and the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” all Americans do not enjoy the right or privilege of equal opportunity. Two pre-morbid conditions – economic inequality and institutional racism -- within American culture and society have made the nation especially vulnerable to a killer virus.
Individuals living in low-income socioeconomic status are more likely to contract and die from the virus. Prior to Covid-19, these persons and families experienced inequality in access to health care; they were either uninsured or underinsured for health problems. As a result, they disproportionately suffered from pre-morbid conditions. Those in the low-income bracket are most likely to live in inadequate crowded housing, a catalyst for the spread of the virus. These poorly paid individuals often can find work only in the service economy, i.e., in restaurants, supermarkets, elder care.
The pandemic has revealed the gross inequality in American culture and society. The lives of these individuals have tended to be ones of inequality in all respects. They most often have attended poor quality schools, may not have graduated and as a result are forced to make a living in no-skill, low-paying jobs. They most often experience food insecurity while working at jobs paying unlivable wages. Most revealing since the occurrence of Covid-19, the glaring inequality has brought awareness to the fact that the most disregarded and underpaid workers in American society are the essential and frontline workers that keep the society functioning.
Institutional racism and sexism impact poverty. Women, especially women of color, are more likely to live in poverty. People of color are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and most likely to suffer severe illness and die from it. Historical inequality in access to health care, pre-existing conditions, poor quality schooling, inadequate and crowded housing, lack of access to healthy nutritional foods make people of color especially vulnerable to the virus. Pre-existing conditions in the body exacerbate the spread of the virus in the body; poverty and racism exacerbate the rates of transmission and mortality in the society. All the factors that contribute to the body’s building a strong immune system are relative to a society’s creating a culture and system that prevent extreme vulnerability to pandemics.
Healing the body is a process of the restoration of health -- the repair of the damaged organs, tissues and cells. The process of building a strong immune system includes eliminating the pre-morbid conditions that have made the individual vulnerable to the virus. To heal American society of inequality requires acknowledgment of this pre-morbidity that permeates all aspects of the culture and society, and exercising the courage it takes to demand changes in institutions that practice racism and perpetuate poverty in American society.
Covid-19 has opened eyes and revealed much about America, much of which we ignore, wish not to see or of which we are actually comfortable with as long as the inequality does not impact us or our families personally.
How long are we going to be comfortable with inequality of any type in this society? Are we comfortable knowing that those who are the least paid and put their lives on the line each day, are also those least able to feed their children, or to protect themselves from the virus?
Are we up to the effort as individuals and as a collective to challenge inequality in American society? To demand that our elected officials use this opportunity to make America the land of equality and opportunity that our ideals proclaim?
In order to heal, we must take the next steps; we must enter into a time of reflection, we must examine the beliefs held in the collective American mind about the “other” -- the black, brown, red, yellow and the poor of whatever color -- and what they deserve as humans. We must examine the values that we hold dear and question how this set of values does or does not enable all Americans to experience the stated ideals of equal opportunity for all.