Many have wondered why some places have been hit hard by the pandemic (Spain, Italy, New York, etc) whereas others still are barely affected. Some likely factors are public transportation, population density, and multiple generation households. Socioeconomic conditions and probably inequality also is involved, as poverty correlates with higher rates of immunological compromise and dysfunction because of stress, food deserts, parasite load, lack of healthcare, and such.
Air pollution, for example, increases asthma which is a major comorbidity of COVID-19. And, of course, poor areas tend to have far worse air pollution, not to mention heavy metal toxicity from old paint and pipes, toxic soil from old factories, and toxic waste dumps. But it turns out that the virus SARS-CoV-2 can also be carried by air pollution particles: Ron Brackett reports that, “Air samples were collected at two sites in Bergamo province in northern Italy’s Lombardy region, the area of the country hit hardest by the pandemic. Testing found a gene highly specific to COVID-19 in multiple samples from the province, one of the most polluted in Italy” (Researchers Find Coronavirus on Pollution Particles). That might be another explanation for why dense urban areas like New York City could worsen infection and death rates.
Consider the example of Italy (Conn Hallinan, How Austerity and Anti-Immigrant Politics Left Italy Exposed; & John Buell, Disaster Capitalism and the Real Culprit in the Italian Covid-19 Catastrophe). Since the 2008 recession, the number of Italians in extreme poverty has doubled which no puts it at more than 10% of the population (Eva Pastorelli & Andrea Stocchiero, Inequalities in Italy) with another 6.8% barely above poverty (Federico Razetti, Poor, scarcely poor and almost poor: what’s going on in Italy?) — combined together, that equates to around 10 million Italians, which is more than the entire population of New York City. Bergamo province is in northern Italy. Even worst poverty is found further south, the location of 70% of the poor (Michael Huang, 10 Facts About Poverty In Italy That Everyone Should Know).
Two of the countries most devastated by COVID-19 are Italy and Spain, both of which have suffered from high rates of poverty combined with economic austerity. As in the United States, it’s the most impoverished and underprivileged who bear the brunt. Shockingly, in New York City, almost half the population is at or near the poverty level with one in five fully in poverty (NYC Opportunity, Poverty in NYC). Although NYC poverty has dropped slightly, inequality remains as high as ever (Elizabeth Kim, NYC Poverty Level Drops To Record Lows, But Income Inequality Persists). It’s unsurprising that such immense poverty and inequality crippled the public health response in such places and specifically harmed those worse off, such as seen in Spain (Guy Hedgecoe, In Spain, austerity legacy cripples coronavirus fight; Brais Fernandez, Spain’s Hospitals Have Suffered Death by a Thousand Cuts; & Stephen Burgen, Poor and vulnerable hardest hit by pandemic in Spain). Such pandemic inequality has been seen all across the United States with poor minorities hit the hardest.
For a combination of reasons, the poor are hit hardest and specifically where poverty is concentrated and exacerbated by high inequality. And this pandemic will only worsen poverty and inequality, unless we demand reforms that are both democratic and progressive. But if we let disaster capitalism run rampant, it will bring on further disasters.
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Austerity in the Age of COVID-19: A Match Made in Hell?
by Paul Rogers
The Impact of COVID-19 Is All Down to Inequality
by Mariano Aguirre
How austerity measures hurt the COVID-19 response
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As Coronavirus Deepens Inequality, Inequality Worsens Its Spread
by Max Fisher and Emma Bubola
The coronavirus pandemic is already increasing inequality
by Steve Schifferes
Covid-19 shows why tackling inequality benefits everyone
by Han Fook Kwang
The pandemic strengthens the case for universal basic income
by Ishaan Tharoor