Pandemic Predicament | Episode 3

In this episode of the Affirmative Action podcast, we discuss some of the factors contributing to the virus having a big impact on minority communities and what can be done to help them.

Several blue face masks on a table
Courtesy: Macau Photo Agency

Even though we are several months into the pandemic, COVID-19 is still considered a new virus and research about its spread, symptoms and long-term effects are ongoing.

One thing we know for certain is anyone can contract the virus no matter your age or station in life. Another thing that’s clear is the coronavirus is having a disproportionate impact on minority communities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to their white counterparts, African Americans are 2.6x more likely to contract the virus, 4.7x more likely to be hospitalized and 2x more likely to die. Among Hispanics and Latinos, they’re 2.8x more likely to contract COVID-19, 4.6x more likely to be hospitalized and 1.1x more likely to die.

In Arkansas, the enormous impact of COVID-19 has varied among minority populations. Springdale, for example, is home to one of the largest populations of Marshallese outside of the Marshall Islands. In June, the pandemic hit the community hard.

At that time, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that even though they make up no more than 3 percent of the population in Northwest Arkansas, about half of the deaths in Benton and Washington Counties were Marshall Islanders.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates African Americans make up around 15 percent of the state’s population, but according to the Arkansas Department of Health, they account for about 20 percent of the state’s deaths.

Panel members for the pandemic episode
Left to Right: Melisa Laelan, executive director of Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese; Mireya Reith, executive director of immigrant advocacy group Arkansas United; and Candace Williams, executive director of the Rural Community Alliance

To learn more about how these communities are continuing to be affected and what can be done to help support them, I spoke with Melisa Laelan, executive director of Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese; Mireya Reith, executive director of immigrant advocacy group Arkansas United; and Candace Williams, executive director of the Rural Community Alliance.

They say the disproportionate impact of the virus on minority communities stems from a variety of factors including underlying health conditions, lack of access to affordable health care, living in multi-generational homes and working for companies that consider them essential workers.

In addition to health issues, the pandemic is also making it difficult for minority families to pay their bills. Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese has a Rent Payment Assistance Program that you can apply for here and Arkansas United has a list of a variety of resources related to COVID-19 that you can access here.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and a Northwest Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts in Arkansas for nearly 15 years.