Thursday, August 06, 2020

The American South and the Pandemic

 Pamela Rush from Lowndes county, Alabama, went to Washington DC to testify in front of a panel of US lawmakers, describing the conditions of crippling poverty and predatory lending in an area still blighted by generations of racial inequality.
“They charged me over $114,000 on a mobile home that’s falling apart,” she said. “I got raw sewage. I don’t have no money, I’m poor.”
Last month she died of Covid-19.
Her death from the virus, wrote the civil rights campaigner the Rev William Barber, was “a death caused by structural poverty”.
The same could be said of many deaths in black belt counties in the deep south, where a combination of poor access to healthcare, failed political leadership and the endurance of segregation and generational racism has contributed to a surge in Covid-19 deaths in recent months. For many communities in the deep south, the story of death, loss and suffering at the hands of the virus has been borne of the same entrenched issues.
 Coronavirus has spread like wildfire through Lowndes county, making it an epicenter in the state and a national hotspot. One in every 18 residents has been confirmed infected, by far the worst rate in Alabama and one of the highest rates in the US. The county is 72% African American. There is no hospital in Lowndes. At least 12% of residents have no form of health insurance.
July marked the deadliest month for Covid-19 in Alabama as cases skyrocketed, disproportionately killing African American residents who constitute 41% of the 1,580 deaths in the state, but only 26% of the state population; 143 people have been killed by coronavirus in Montgomery county.
Alabama’s Republican governor, Kay Ivey, had ordered a statewide mask wearing mandate in order to curb the spread of the virus.  in June, the city council voted down a mask ordinance despite soaring deaths and testimony from hospital doctors urging them to pass legislation. The council, which consists of five white members and four Black members, voted largely on racial lines. Doctors who attended the vote walked out in disgust as the result was announced. At the beginning of July the council eventually took another vote and passed the mandate. Governor Ivey extended the statewide mask wearing ordinance.
Leflore county is 75% black and has the third highest Covid-19 death rate in the state with 59 deaths.  Dr Rachael Faught found it difficult to hide her exhaustion. One of only two ICU doctors at the Greenwood Leflore hospital, which serves many counties in the rural Mississippi delta region, over the past month she has seen a surge of critical cases that have often left the hospital overwhelmed. Like many rural hospitals in America, it faces financial uncertainty and still goes through waves of PPE shortages, meaning staff are often forced to reuse masks, gowns and face shields.

Dr Faught was frustrated with the fact that Mississippi was one of the first states to reopen after going into lockdown too late.

Despite this, it was only last week that the Mississippi governor, Tate Reeves, ordered residents in the county to wear masksCases have been surging in the state in many counties with majority Black populations, and following sustained pressure Reeves eventually issued a statewide mask mandate on Tuesday.

“Things have changed but so much has stayed the same.” Cross, an organizer with the Poor People’s Campaign, said. “We still have low salaries, low wages, the worst housing conditions, poor schooling and a healthcare system that needs a lot of work.”

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