An Oral History of Pandemic Life Told by Black Essential Workers
From grocery store clerks to mental health counselors to mail carriers, Black essential workers describe living during the pandemic
This story is part of “Six Months In,” a special weeklong Elemental series reflecting on where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and what the future holds for the Covid-19 pandemic.
After working a long day, loading trucks at an HVAC company in East Point, Georgia, J. Waters quickly peruses her local grocery store’s shelves for food and cleaning supplies. In her area, the poverty rate is over 20%. Health conditions are highly prevalent. Hospitalizations are up. As Covid-19 consumes the public consciousness, so do the nearby killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks.
The global pandemic is creating a devastating pattern of Covid-19 cases in communities of color. Once referred to as “the Great Equalizer,” data has shown that the virus’s reach is not isolated from social and economic inequalities. Across age groups, Black Americans are almost three times as likely to get sick, and twice as likely to die, from Covid-19 compared to white Americans. Against the backdrop of a national reckoning with police brutality, the systemic racism embedded within society has proven to be another pandemic within itself.
These racial health disparities are the result of structural injustices. Black Americans have high rates of underlying health conditions, including those like diabetes and heart disease, that are risk factors for severe cases of Covid-19. These disparities are inextricably linked to racist practices, like redlining, that have left Black people more prone to overcrowded living situations, air pollution, and food deserts. Black Americans are also less likely to have access to equitable health care or to have their health concerns taken seriously by providers. Black workers are far more likely to be in job industries deemed “essential” — forcing them to put their health, and that of their families, at risk to make a living.