Advocates say Reopening Plan puts Communities of Color at Risk

May 13, 2020

As businesses prepare to reopen on Friday, COVID-19 continues to infect Black and Latinx people at disproportionate rates.

Some say the plan is moving too fast and putting communities of color at risk in the process.

Without proper workplace safeguards and adequate testing, many will be forced to choose between their safety and a paycheck according to Tram Nguyen, the co-executive director at New Virginia Majority.  "They are literally putting their lives on the line to go back to work," Nguyen says.

Nguyen says she’s hearing a lot about the demands of business owners and customers who miss getting manicures.  "That highlights to me this class divide."

A divide that’s worsened, she says, when race and ethnicity are taken into consideration. Black and Latinx people are more likely to work low-wage jobs, according to data from Oxfam America. Often that means close contact with customers who may or may not take precautions like wearing a mask.

Moreover, Nguyen says there are linguistic and cultural barriers preventing communities from getting potentially lifesaving information or treatment.

Dr. Michael Williams is the director of the University of Virginia's Center for Health Policy. He acknowledges that Northam is under pressure to reopen, but Williams says the state isn’t ready yet. "To be able to do it safely, I think additional things need to be in place that are not necessarily in place for all members of our society," Williams says.

One of his primary concerns is housing. Communities of color are historically more likely to be forced into overcrowded quarters, says Williams, which makes it impossible to quarantine if a member of the household contracts the virus.  For now, Williams says the quickest course of action is to increase testing capability.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.