As the world crosses half a million confirmed deaths due to COVID-19, this week’s Extra! Extra! turns its focus to the latest COVID news and the disparate toll of the virus. In the US, battles are raging on reopening schools in the next month or so and the Supreme Court had another big week of rulings. Meanwhile, police brutality and intimidation, along with activism against police violence, continue.
COVID-19 Isn’t Going Away Any Time Soon
The #coronavirus can spread in the air indoors, the WHO says, a reversal from its previous advice.
— Bloomberg QuickTake (@QuickTake) July 10, 2020
Natalie: The scariest thing about COVID-19 is how much we still don’t know about it. And while I’m grateful for every study that gets us closer to understanding how to exist in a world with Covid in it, they all leave me in a constant state of re-evaluation about the precautions I’m taking to protect myself and my family.
Rachel: I couldn’t agree more with Natalie, and have been both grateful for the continued new pieces of information and frustrated with how little we still know, and how much what we think we know seems mutable. In this particular case, I’ve already felt like airborne transmission was likely based on much earlier data back in like, April, so in some ways this makes me feel more sane, but the reality is that we won’t have a solid handling on COVID’s transmission (or its symptoms, or long-term effects, or anything!) until well after all the decisions we’ve personally needed to make about it, and so we need to continue making decisions based on awareness of worst-case scenarios, even though it’s been forever and we’re all exhausted.
Natalie: It’s hard not to take a little bit of satisfaction in Bolsonaro’s diagnosis — after all, he’s been one of the world’s leading skeptics on the virus and his ignorance has turned Brazil into one of the world’s COVID hotspots — but at the same time I worry.
I worry that, if Bolsonaro returns to the world stage, relatively unscathed by his bout with coronavirus, he’ll continue to dismiss the seriousness of the disease and allow it to further ravage his country. He’s already making public shows of his use of hydroxychloroquine and it’s hard to imagine his quarantine humbling him in any way. Conversely, I also worry about the impact — in Brazil, in Honduras, in Bolivia and surely in other countries in the future — that the loss, temporarily or otherwise, of heads of government can have. We are truly in unchartered territory.
Natalie: This is my shocked face: 😐
In North Carolina, our governor looked at data showing a spike in COVID cases and actually paused our state’s reopening plan and implemented a statewide mask mandate. I was caught totally off-guard by the announcement…I’d just gotten so used to leaders announcing bad data and then ignoring it and pressing on with reopening that I was taken aback to see Cooper do otherwise. That’s where we are today: leaders that do the right thing, based on irrefutable scientific evidence, are shocking.
In the end of all this, a lot of people have gotten sick and a lot of people will have died, not just because of the virus but because we couldn’t muster up the political will to do more. Our desire to prioritize “normal” over everything has had disastrous consequences and history will not look kindly on our selfishness in this moment.
Himani: Back in March when all the leaders were dragging their feet to shut down, it already felt like a no brainer that the longer we waited, the more COVID cases — and deaths — there would be. In fact, recent studies have demonstrated that exactly. And then in May and June, everyone decided they were done with Coronavirus, even though Coronavirus very clearly isn’t done with us. I feel like it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that cases are on the rise and PPE for medical workers is running low again. Meanwhile, I walk through my neighborhood and maybe ten percent of people are wearing a mask, while the sound of sirens is on the rise, again. Jersey City was hit really hard in March and April and I’m not sure it ever fully recovered, but there’s just this general feeling in the air that everyone is done social distancing. It’s so infuriating and, also, incredibly depressing.
Natalie: As I noted earlier, what we know about coronavirus, who’s susceptible and how the virus operates, continues to evolve at a rapid clip but, at the very least, we knew definitively about the virus’ impact on older individuals. The fact that countries didn’t immediately move to create a testing initiative for all nursing home residents and staff is a tremendous failure that has had deadly consequences.
More Data Emerges on How the Pandemic Reinforces Structural Inequalities
Himani: This data has been a long time coming, and it is still woefully incomplete. But this is the first national look at the disparate effects of COVID by race, and it confirms what we’ve seen at various local levels. Across the country, Black and Latinx people have been far more likely to get COVID during the pandemic. That’s true whether we’re looking at urban, suburban or rural communities. It seems too obvious to say, but systemic racism extends well beyond the criminal justice system.
Himani: It feels doubly cruel that while Black and Latinx communities have borne the brunt of the health effects of COVID, they are also bearing the brunt of the economic effects of the pandemic. In a recent census survey, nearly three in ten Black households and nearly a quarter of Latinx households reported food insecurity. Those are disturbingly high rates, especially compared to the already-high one in ten of white households. Infuriatingly, Congressional Republicans refuse to expand funding for food stamps, a program that the Trump administration had been attempting to gut earlier this year. I’m really not sure why access to food is up for debate in America in 2020, but somehow, amazingly, it is.
Himani: America isn’t alone its racism — that has always been true. The former colonial empires of Europe have a lot of reckoning to do with their own racist pasts and present. This recent study from France highlights some of the effects of its own racist attitude towards immigrants, particularly those from Africa. But, it also reveals the country’s refusal to truly face itself. As The Guardian reports: “Officially, the French republic is “colour blind” and does not categorise or count people by race or ethnicity. But critics say that that guiding philosophy has made the state oblivious to discrimination and put minorities at additional risk.”
Himani: In the early days of the pandemic, I had this feeling of standstill, as if the world had stopped, as if the demons of all of humanity’s terrible environmental decisions had decided to step aside for the global pandemic. But it was March, which is to say, it wasn’t wildfire season. As spring turned to summer, I began to think about the water shortages that are ravaging more and more parts of the world each year and now fire season is back in America. It feels doubly cruel that one of the communities hardest-hit by the pandemic is now facing the threat of wildfires. But this only serves to prove just how deeply entrenched racism and systemic inequality is in every aspect of the societies we have created.
And that’s true globally. In country after country, the communities hardest hit by the health and economic effects of the pandemic are the ones whose lives are most deeply affected by climate change and state-imposed violence. Often, this falls along ethnic and racial lines; it can also fall along other organizing structures within a community (for instance, income or, specifically in India, caste). Sometimes, it feels to me like the whole damned world is broken, but the truth is it isn’t; it was built to work exactly in this way.
Himani: And this — I just can’t even with this. It is utterly heartbreaking and yet one more reminder of how all of these calamities layer on top of each other to destroy communities, destroy people and destroy lives.
The Fight to Reopen Schools in the US
Natalie: It is easy to lash out at this administration or the governor of Florida — who compared reopening to reopening Walmart or Home Depot — but the real debate over whether and how to reopen schools is a complicated one, fraught with a lot of bad options. On the one hand you want to keep school staff, children, and the families they go home to, safe and the only way to do that definitively is by keeping schools closed and lessons online. But there’s a cost there too… a cost that’ll be borne, primarily, by low-income families. If we had a competent Department of Education, we’d be witnessing a public debate on these issues — with collaboration producing the least bad option — but, instead, states and school districts are being left to their own devices.
There are no good options. The question is who do we sacrifice to embrace the least bad option.
Rachel: I have started to realize that in the same way that it’s not really legible or comprehensible to people outside the US how badly failing our healthcare system is (or how inextricably even access to that terrible healthcare is linked to employment), it’s not necessarily the norm or obvious how many safety nets and resources for everyone under 18 in the US is linked to public education, or how reliant we all are on it. Vast numbers of children are only able to eat 2 of their meals of the day because their schools provide them, even if that does put them in lunch debt; students who rely on support or care around physical or developmental disabilities almost exclusively get that care through their schools, to say nothing of everyone’s socialization needs. Kids who need counseling or who rely on other adults outside the ones in their home to notice that they’re struggling or being abused are reliant on mandatory reporters and counselors in school systems to step up and do so. Parents are also completely reliant on the public school system; there’s no nationalized or affordable childcare; daycares are incredibly expensive and getting a spot in one isn’t guaranteed. Parents have spent the last four months trying care for and homeschool their kids full-time while also work full-time — or while laid off or sick with COVID, or both! I know more than one parent who has had to try to find childcare or somewhere safe for their kids to stay while they were actively infected with COVID or hospitalized for it. This is to say that while it is unthinkable and impossible for schools to reopen on a safety level, it’s also basically impossible and unthinkable to keep them closed even longer — especially if parents are going to try to return to the “normal” workforce, there simply is nowhere else for their kids to go, let alone somewhere safe that doesn’t spread contagion. There are no good options! It’s unbearable!
Natalie: The unending cruelty of this administration is truly astounding. Just when I think they’ve reached their lowest point, they manage to go even lower. That said, it’s been heartening to see professors on twitter commit to creating special in-person classes, even as the rest of their instruction moves online, to ensure that international students can remain in the country.
Anyone at University of Maryland needing an in person class, I AM AVAILABLE to do an independent study. https://t.co/6Fckb3szpE
— Dana R Fisher (@Fisher_DanaR) July 6, 2020
Yale Law Dean says that nearly every faculty member volunteered to teach international students in person in light of ICE policy.
“One of my colleagues told me that he would teach outside in the snow if he needed to.” https://t.co/cp8KsqJmik
— Hamed Aleaziz (@Haleaziz) July 9, 2020
If you haven’t already, check in with your alma mater and see what efforts are being made to ensure that international students have a place at our institutions of higher learning. If there’s no clear plan for access, write to your alma mater’s chief academic officer and encourage them to create one.
Himani: So, I’m going to be that person for a moment here. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, in large part because I’ve spent the last half dozen years working in or adjacent to higher education so I both read about and also see first hand issues of educational access. I also think a lot about the varying experiences of racism by people of different colors and different immigration processes. What the administration did with creating this rule regarding foreign students and reopening universities is truly unconscionable. But, it’s hard for me not to feel like this wave of support from professors is extremely shallow. As The Guardian article highlights, yes the majority of international students are people of color, but this is where the specifics matter — the majority come from China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada. And, given the extremely high cost of college in America coupled with the fact that international students pay full tuition (they are truly the cash cows that bolster far too many colleges) they’re also generally coming from the upper classes of those countries.
I say all this to say, it’s great to see professors standing up in solidarity, but where are these professors when we’re having conversations about the racial achievement gaps in higher education? Why aren’t they stepping up to mentor students from under-resourced communities who are the first in their families to attend college, who are largely Black and Latinx and are made to feel alienated – particularly at elite institutions?
Police Brutality and Intimidation Continues…
Natalie: You can’t reform this. You just can’t.
Natalie: How can a person be both a threat to the police and also shot five times in the back?
Natalie: This story definitely sparked me revisiting Andrew Yang’s plan from his presidential campaign to treat our data as a property right. We should have more than the shaky promises of tech companies to ensure us that our data is secure and will not be weaponized against us.
And So Does All the Activism in Response to It
Rachel: I’m incredibly interested in the intersection of labor organizing and power in the US and police power right now – there’s the ongoing discussion of the unchecked power of police unions and whether from a labor perspective police unions even make sense and whether police are in fact workers; there’s the power of trade unions to weigh in on movements like institutions divesting from police; there’s the profit motive of collaboration with the state and with police forces that can make actions like strikes or boycotts effective. I’m interested in the MN police rehiring story and the Ford story to start to think about questions like: can organized workers impact the corporate class’s collaboration with police or the state? Can people be mobilized around recognition of the unchecked power and resources police have around things like overtime, firings, being rehired, union protection, etc compared to the average factory worker or teacher? We’ve seen there’s a lot of power and potential in talking about how much money we spend on police and where else that money could go; is there a way to open up a class conversation about why police officers can make $200,000 a year before overtime or bonuses but workers in even more dangerous jobs like roofers or loggers are stuck in a Sisyphean working-class dead end when it comes to salary?
I think this current movement has been more successful at almost any before it in linking issues like police violence, sexual and gendered violence, violence against queer and trans folks, prison abolition, capitalistic investment in a police state, digital surveillance and corporate complicity, and so many other things, rather than caving to disingenuous insistence that they be addressed “one at a time” — I think a labor perspective on these things would be such a powerful dimension to move even further into the foreground.
Natalie: This will just be another way for prosecutors to eliminate black people from the jury pool without running afoul of the precedent established by Batson v. Kentucky. It’s hard to imagine that we won’t see this issue tackled by the Courts at some point in the near future.
This Week at the SCOTUS and Other Important Legal Battles
Himani: One of the things that infuriates me the most about the judiciary is the appearance of non-partisanship. It’s a complete fucking lie. As this article lays bear, every decision is very carefully calculated, and John Roberts has made an art out of painstakingly configuring those calculations. This term seems like a win for liberal issues like the protection of DACA, LGBTQ+ employment rights and reproductive rights. It’s not. It really, really is not. Each one of those cases was full of contingencies that leave the door wide open for future challenges (and often, the conservative justices provided a roadmap for how to win those future challenges). Roberts made the court appear nonpartisan but has really laid the groundwork for eroding civil rights, liberties and democracy itself. The two articles below further reinforce that point.
Natalie: I haven’t yet had the opportunity to sit down and dig through the decision in McGirt so I can’t speak too definitively about its outcome. That said, I’ve been listening to Native American leaders who have been gratified by the Court’s recognition of their sovereignty and am left wondering: how do we justify the selectivity under which we acquiesce to Native American sovereignty?
Himani: These are important wins in terms of both indigenous sovereignty and environmentalism. And that’s not what ultimately won these cases. Instead, it came down to sloppy attempts at sidelining administrative processes. Which is to say, what was really at stake has been left uncontested.