Posts

Dr. Vinay Lal, UCLA professor of history and Asian American Studies, takes a deep dive on the global impact of COVID-19 in his latest book, Fury of COVID-19. In this interview for the LA Social Science book series, he compares how different nation states have responded to COVID-19. He sheds light on the need for public health measures in the U.S. as well as international cooperation in order to curtail COVID. His book also addresses how social distancing complicates personal relationships. Lastly, Dr. Lal weighs in on how specifically the response in the United States has much to do with the administration’s position on climate change.

Interview Chapters:

0:04 – Intro

1:07 – What is the main point of this book?

6:39 – How did the history of countries affect their response to the pandemic?

16:13 – How do comments like “China Virus” by the administration affect international cooperation?

To learn more, check out Professor Lal’s book, Fury of COVID-19.

 

Subscribe to LA Social Science and be the first to learn more insight and knowledge from UCLA’s Division of Social Science experts and other faculty about upcoming video/audio sessions and posts about current issues.

The UCLA California Policy Lab has released their fourth policy brief focused on Unemployment Insurance (UI) claims in California since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. The latest policy brief, “An Analysis of Unemployment Insurance Claims in California During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” focuses on the increasing number of workers who are returning to work and seeing their unemployment claims either reduced or denied altogether as a result.  Although returning to work may signal good news for the economy, the brief highlights how this can create some challenging decisions for workers, especially if they’re being called back on a reduced schedule with reduced earnings that result in them losing all or part of their UI benefits in addition to childcare and health safety issues.

To read the press release, click HERE.

To read the full report, click HERE.

Key Research Findings

1. In a sign of improving economic conditions, the fraction of UI beneficiaries either not receiving their first benefit payment because their earnings were too high or receiving partial UI benefits increased in the first half of May. Only workers earning less than three quarters of their prior weekly wages qualify for partial UI and FPUC (and workers earning above that are denied UI benefits entirely for that week), creating a difficult decision for workers in an uncertain labor market.

2. In the weeks preceding May 16th, the period preceding last week’s Jobs Report, a total of 0.46% of the California labor force in April either received partial UI or were denied benefits because of excess earnings (compared to a one and a half decline in the national unemployment rate). Hence, a substantial fraction of individuals that recently returned to work are working reduced hours and may still be attached to the Unemployment Insurance system.

3. As layoffs become more evenly distributed across industries, the share of UI claims by more educated workers have been gradually increasing. Among higher educated workers that claimed benefits recently, Generation Z (age 16-23), women, and those working in Health Care and Social Assistance were most affected.

4. During the past four weeks, about 70% of initial UI claimants reported that they expected to be recalled. However, differences in recall expectations are growing, with 62% of Black workers who filed claims from May 17th to May 30th saying they expect to be recalled vs. 72% of White, 73% of Hispanic, and 74% of Asian workers.

5. The cumulative impact of the crisis is still substantially greater for less advantaged workers – over 1 in 4 women (as opposed to 1 in 5 men), more than 1 in 3 members of Generation Z, and more than 1 in 2 workers with a high school degree have filed for benefits.

6. As the economy slowly re-opens, programs such as Work Sharing, which allow working claimants to keep a share of their UI benefits and maintain eligibility for the $600 FPUC payment, would help strengthen the financial outlook for workers if they’re working at reduced time and earnings.


To read LA Social Science’s previous coverage of the CPL’s briefs in this series, click HERE.

LRW Group, a local marketing services firm and UCLA Division of Social Sciences community partner, was a key contributor to the Los Angeles County COVID-19 study that sought to find the true spread of the virus in the county through serological testing. Led by UCLA alum, chairman and CEO Dave Sackman, LRW Group partnered with USC and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health by identifying and recruiting a representative sample of LA residents to participate in the study. The findings released last week suggest infections from the new coronavirus are far more widespread, and the fatality rate is much lower here in LA County than previously thought.

LRW Group formed a partnership with the UCLA Division of Social Sciences in 2019. The partnership created a dedicated UCLA staff position tasked with recruiting undergraduates and graduate students for paid summer internships in data science. The initiative will support a proposed major in Data and Society in the division and feature support workshops and roundtables in social data science, as well as guest lectures by LRW leadership and employees.

According to Dean Darnell Hunt:

“LRW’s commitment will seed our efforts to establish a pipeline of underrepresented students into the new Data and Society major we are developing as part of the division’s larger big data initiative. Along with this generous and important contribution, LRW also has pledged to offer paid internships to some of our most promising students, creating an opportunity for them to envision future careers and gain workplace experience that enhances their academic pursuits at UCLA.”

 

Subscribe to LA Social Science and be the first to learn more insight and knowledge from UCLA social science experts in upcoming video/audio sessions and posts about current issues.

Photo Credit: Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States – Closed Due to Health Crisis, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88247255

By Eli R. Wilson, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of New Mexico

It is impossible to locate a part of our society that has not been profoundly affected by the current pandemic, as we lurch from health crisis to economic crisis to labor crisis to community crisis—and back again.

The U.S. service sector remains at the epicenter of the crisis. The California Restaurant Association recently issued a dire warning that 30% of restaurants in the state will close without dramatic government intervention. In a letter to the governor, the group argues that the recent federal aid package is a Band-Aid that will not prevent permanent closures. Hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers have already filed for unemployment, and anticipated job losses in the industry are running as high as 7 million. The Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC), a worker advocacy group, is one of several organizations that have set up an emergency relief fund to help the most desperate families.

The effects of the pandemic on the restaurant industry has been uneven, with a much larger impact on small businesses and vulnerable workers. On the business side, many of the immediate closures are mom-and-pop restaurants, which are disproportionately owned by immigrants and people of color. Restaurants operate on razor-thin 5–10% profit margins even in good times, so many smaller restaurants make just enough money to stay afloat month to month. The $2 trillion federal aid package will supposedly reach these types of businesses, but accounting for inevitable processing delays and the continuation of government-mandated closures across the country, it may be too little, too late.

Among restaurant employees, undocumented workers find themselves in particularly dire straits. Without proper work authorization, these individuals cannot seek federal assistance, including funds from the federal aid package, despite being laid off and having paid into the taxes that are funding that aid. Prior to the pandemic, the industry’s millions of undocumented workers were already a largely invisible group employed mainly in physically taxing back-of-the-house jobs with low wages and few benefits. Reduced work hours and widespread layoffs will push many to grapple with the inability to meet their family’s basic needs and nowhere to turn for help but friends and relatives in equally precarious situations.

At the same time, the most dramatic relative impacts on restaurant workers are on front-of-the-house workers, who tend to be young, white, and middle-class. Socially speaking, this is not an at-risk group. Yet because of the structure of their jobs, the pandemic is nothing short of an employment Armageddon for the nation’s nearly 4 million servers, bartenders, baristas, hosts, and cashiers. Front-of-the-house employees’ work schedules are directly related to customer traffic; fewer customers mean fewer hours of work in the dining room. Also, front-of-the-house workers rely heavily on tips for their income. Normally, these workers expect that a steady stream of diners will pad their low hourly wages, and servers and bartenders at higher-end restaurants can make $15-30 per hour in tips on top of their base wages. So even if some restaurants are able to maintain employee payroll during this period, without customers or tips, these workers will find themselves among the lowest-paid in the country.

A few restaurants are staying busy through a mixture of the right business model (quick-serve, takeout) and the resources to adjust to the months-long closure of dining room service. But neither describes the majority of sit-down restaurants, especially small ones. At best, this is the end of a golden age for restaurants in terms of growth and profits (one that weathered the 2007–2009 Great Recession relatively well). At worst, this crisis has laid bare a broken industry paradigm with no safety net for millions of workers and left small restaurants fighting for their survival.

We need to push for federal and state-level aid crafted by policy makers in collaboration with restaurant industry leaders to ensure that aid is distributed both efficiently and equitably. A significant portion of this money should be flagged for small businesses trying to meet operating expenses and employee payroll. Temporary policy changes can help too, such as recent city-level decisions to allow restaurants to sell groceries and to-go alcohol (with the appropriate liquor license). On an individual level, every consumer who is financially able should do their part to support their local restaurants as much as possible. Buy takeout regularly from these establishments, tip delivery people well, purchase gift cards. We want to ensure that when the effects of this pandemic subside, our neighborhood gathering places and those who work in them are able to rebound as quickly as possible.

 

Eli Revelle Yano Wilson is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico. He received his PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles, and is a former research affiliate with the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Dr. Wilson studies labor dynamics within the U.S. restaurant and the craft beer industries. His first book, Front of the House, Back of the House: Race and Inequality in the Lives of Restaurant Workers, will be released this fall through NYU Press.

 

Subscribe to LA Social Science and be the first to learn more insight and knowledge from UCLA social science experts in upcoming video/audio sessions and posts dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

LA Social Science interviewed Dr. Daniel Fessler, Anthropologist and Director of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute.  He discusses how showing appreciation and gratitude are practical ways to keep morale in difficult circumstances, such as the current coronavirus pandemic. We are also reminded to “Play Your Part Stay Apart” (PYPSA).

Check out our previous stories related to the research on kindness at UCLA:

A Global Lifeboat: Evolution and Kindness in the Time of Coronavirus (Audio)

Doing Good with Dr. Fessler

$20 Million Gift Establishes the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute in the Division of Social Sciences

 

Subscribe to LA Social Science and be the first to learn more insight and knowledge from UCLA social science experts in upcoming video/audio sessions and posts dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Photo Credit: Aonip/iStock (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/can-my-cat-get-coronavirus-should-my-dog-wear-a-mask-what-pet-owners-need-to-know-about-covid-19-2020-04-10)

Professor Vinay Lal, UCLA Professor of History and Asian American Studies, has an informative blog titled, “Lal Salaam: A Blog by Vinay Lal.” Recently, he has written “a series of articles on the implications of the coronavirus for our times, for human history, and for the fate of the earth.”

You may read his earlier essays on LA Social Science. The following is a full reprinting of his fifth essay, “Inverted Relationships: Humans and Dogs in the Times of Coronavirus Anxiety,” (April 11, 2020), in the series:

Around a month ago, when schools, colleges, and universities began to transition to online learning, and the first edicts for the closure of museums, restaurants, and other public places were put into effect, some pet owners began to ponder whether social distancing also required them to keep their pets at arm’s length. Though COVID-19 is of zoonotic origins, having, most likely, been transmitted from a coronavirus-infected horseshoe bat to humans via another animal—the pangolin has been mentioned as the most likely host—the present strain of the coronavirus did not at first appear to transmit from humans to dogs, cats, and other domestic animals. In late February, however, a 17-year old Pomeranian, whose owner had been infected, also tested positive for the coronavirus and passed away in mid-March, though the exact cause of its death is uncertain and will be not known as its owner did not permit an autopsy; a second dog, a German shepherd, tested positive but remained asymptomatic. Then, more recently, a domestic cat in Belgium became infected but recovered after nine days.

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, shuttering the economy around the globe, leaving tens of millions without jobs security, eviscerating commonly held notions about “public culture”, altogether emptying out public spaces, and, most critically, leaving in its wake a devastating and still continuing toll of human lives and suffering, it may seem to some a luxury to revisit in light of the profound changes that the pandemic has already wrought in everyday life the manner in which we understand the relationship of human beings to animals and in particular domestic pets.  However, much in recent times has brought us to an enhanced awareness both of the staggering diversity in the non-human world, and the sheer peril in which animals, birds, and entire ecosystems have been placed in consequence of human activity and the unfortunately commonly held view that human beings have every right to exercise dominion over nature. Beyond this more, as would (mistakenly) say, abstract view, there is this consideration which suggests why thinking of domestic pets at this juncture may yield some insights into the present predicament:  60 per cent of American households have at least one pet, and 44 percent of Americans own a dog.  One may be certain that pet owners have had much occasion to think not only about whether their pets might be susceptible to COVID-19 but the comforts (and to some the hazards) of pet ownership at such a time.  Pet owners, largely reduced like everyone else to the confines of their home, are doubtless spending a good deal more of their time with their pets; in my neighborhood in Los Angeles county, as I saunter along on my evening walks during these days of lockdown, I am encountering neighbors walking their dogs whom I have never seen before in nearly twenty years at the same address.

A recent Los Angeles Times article, “Man’s best friends during crisis”, suggests that people from around the world are discovering anew the joys of pet ownership, and in particular dogs, as the pandemic keeps them largely immobilized at home.  Hospitals, even in “ordinary” times, have been known to use dogs as part of therapy treatments, and at this time of acute anxiety the comfort humans appear to derive from the companionship of dogs has become all the more palpable. Animal shelters are reporting an unusually high interest in the adoption of abandoned dogs and cats, and not only in the United States.  “Amid the lockdown,” notes the Los Angeles Times article in the syrupy language which characterizes much writing on domestic pets, “a restless and hard-headed nation has discovered that what it really needs right now is a snuggle and slurp.”  To some a new pet represents hope, indeed a vigorous affirmation of the idea that “life goes on” and that “all is well”, or will be well; to others the pet is, much like Netflix, a pleasant distraction from the doom and gloom of the news hour.  For working parents now unexpectedly saddled with small children, a domestic pet may even have the same quality of serving in loco parentis long associated with school teachers.

As the coronavirus pandemic carries on, and once we are past it, we will doubtless get to know more about how dogs (and cats) have fared in different cultural milieus. Sassafras Lowery, a “Certified Dog Trick Instructor” who has written recently for the New York Times, noted that she was struck by the considerably different behavior exhibited by dogs in European countries—Britain, Germany, France, and the Netherlands—in contrast to the United States.  She found that in Europe “dogs are everywhere”, in restaurants, bars, theaters, buses, and trains among other public venues, and they seemed welcome and thus “calm, relaxed and quiet”; in the United States, on the other hand, “pet dogs aren’t welcome in most public spaces, and often struggle in the public places where they are allowed.”  If dogs seem better integrated into the culture of everyday life in “ordinary times” more so in some European countries than in the United States, it would be interesting to know whether in a post-pandemic society the relationship between dogs and their owners might not also change.  Lowery goes on to suggest, tellingly, that “dog behavior isn’t all about the dogs. A lot of it has to do with us.”

There is a long history of the anthropomorphization of disease and it should not surprise us if cartoonists have been busy sketching the Grim Reaper in our midst.  But the skillful cartoonist can just as easily with a few line drawings render any subject both vivid and complex at the same time, and in these times of coronavirus anxiety some of them have with great sensitivity suggested the inverted relationships of humans to dogs. I would like to take up for brief discussion three cartoons shared with me from friends in India through the popular messaging service, WhatsApp. In the first, just as the dog is about to leave home to paint the town red, he says to his owner:  “Be Good . . . Back Soon!”

DogVirusCartoon1

This cartoon requires, most people would say, no interpretation.  Even those who are not dog owners are entirely familiar with the scenario: as the owner leaves home, he or she speaks to their dog as they would to their child:  be good, don’t mess up the place too much, and don’t do anything naughty.  Now the dog owner has been put in that place, indeed he has been put, the dog appears to be saying rather gleefully, in his place:  the inversion is only possible because humans are now commanded to stay indoors and must surrender the exterior space to the lower species. The cartoon plays upon notions of interiority and exteriority; but it also tugs at notions of freedom and restraint.  The leash that remains upon the dog’s neck suggests that the Bacchanalian excess in which the dog might indulge is but momentary:  it is something akin to the carnivalesque but temporary inversion of the social order that Mikhail Bakhtin, in his book on Dostoevsky’s Poetics, described as characteristic of the middle ages, a phenomenon also witnessed by anthropologists in many societies.  A similar set of ideas are conveyed in a second cartoon:  the dog is hectoring his owner, reminding him that the constraints that have

DogVirusCartoon3

been placed upon him are for his own good.  But this cartoon takes further the assault on man’s real or supposed distinction from all other species in being able to command the faculty of reason:  we think we are by far the higher species on account of our ability to reason, exercise restraint, and discipline ourselves, but we are fundamentally creatures of habit.

“You must be joking,” says the dog to a man who has extended his hand for the customary dog handshake.  Are you trying to give me the virus, the dog asks with an incredulous look on his face. We always expect dogs to take our extended hand:  the dog

DogVirusCartoon2

that does so is a “gentleman”, a good dog, a friendly family dog.  In these times of the pandemic, the dog can be daring and reject that extended (and often unwittingly condescending) hand.  The behavioral anthropologists at least must be convinced that the handshake originated as a greeting between two parties that were keen to show each other that they were willing to greet each other, and come to the negotiating table, without arms.  Somewhere there must be a social or cultural historian who has written on the handshake, but we do know that in countries such as India the handshake came as a colonial artefact.  Indeed, Hindu nationalists have been cowing in recent weeks of the now evident superiority, as they point out, of the traditional greeting in India, the namaskar which entails bringing the palms together before one’s and bowing.  Not less elegant, they may be reminded, is the adab of South Asian Muslims.

Every dog has its day, says an old English proverb that Shakespeare chewed on to render it thus:

        Let Hercules himself do what he may,
       The cat will mew and dog will have his day.  (Hamlet, V.i)

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wag its tail in our face, every dog is surely having his day.

 

Subscribe to LA Social Science and be the first to learn more insight and knowledge from UCLA social science experts in upcoming video/audio sessions and posts dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo Credit: CNN.com

Professor Vinay Lal, UCLA Professor of History and Asian American Studies, has an informative blog titled, “Lal Salaam: A Blog by Vinay Lal.” Recently, he has written “a series of articles on the implications of the coronavirus for our times, for human history, and for the fate of the earth.”

Last week we presented his first three essays, the following is a full reprinting of his fourth essay, “The Coronavirus and the Humbling of America,” (April 7, 2020), in the series:

One of the most striking aspects of the novel coronavirus pandemic which has created an upheaval all over the world has to be the astonishing sight of the world’s richest society brought to its knees and appearing as a suppliant before the very country, China, that it holds responsible for the virus.  No doubt everyone serving the sitting President will take deep offense at this suggestion, and certainly the United States has made every effort to show to the world that, if anything, it intends to capitalize on this opportunity to further punish its enemies and show that it remains the world’s predominant power.  “While coronavirus ravages Iran,” noted the Washington Post in a headline two weeks ago, “U.S. sanctions squeeze it.”  The United States has not only ignored calls to suspend sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, but has rather ramped up the pressure against what it terms “rogue states”.  The Department Justice a few days ago unveiled charges of drug trafficking and money-laundering against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and over a dozen other high-ranking officials.  One can readily believe that the Ayatollahs in Iran and Maduro and his ilk in Venezuela have done little for their own people, but they do not go around peddling themselves as God’s gift to the world.  Evidently, if the United States is the example before us, nations do not become imperial powers by practicing humanity, much less chivalry.

As I write these lines, the United States has 387,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, nearly five times the number of cases in China where the outbreak first occurred.  China accounted, until well into mid-February, for the preponderant portion of the coronavirus cases around the world, and even as late as March 15th it accounted for more than half of the 5,833 deaths attributed to COVID-19. It is a different world today, three weeks later: nearly 12,300 Americans have been felled by COVID-19, and the United States accounts for more than a quarter of coronavirus cases globally. To take only one illustration of the desperate situation into which the country has been flung, at his daily press conference on April 4th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo noted that he expected that his state required 17,000 ventilators, but that the nation’s entire stockpile of ventilators amounted to 10,000.

We have lived in an enumerative world since the early 19th century, one in which we acquired, so to speak, an unquenchable taste (as Mary Poovey has described it) for “the fact” and, in the words of UCLA historian Ted Porter, a “trust in numbers”.  COVID-19 occupies many worlds and imaginaries, and the statistics in its wake have an obsessive and troubling quality of their own. One wakes up in the morning and turns to the Johns Hopkins corona global map, or to worldometers.info, to get the most accurate and updated figures charting the menacing spread of COVID-19.  But, apart from cases and fatalities, there are the constant references to many millions of masks, gloves, and test kits, tens of thousands of ventilators and ICU beds, a $2.2 trillion relief package over which the Republican wolves in the White House and present administration desired no oversight but their own, ten million unemployed in the United States in virtually an instant, and more:  the numbers come as an onslaught.

What astonishes the most, however, is the daily news items and vivid stories about the acute shortages of masks, ventilators, personal protective equipment, and hospital beds.  Until two weeks ago, most cities and municipalities in the US barely even had any test kits.  Doctors and health care workers throughout the country have described their desperation and their mounting fear that patients will simply have to be left to die. The stories of these shortages are now legion; the fear that medical workers, and those who work in grocery stores or in other “essential” services, experience is palpable.  Moreover, since the Trump regime has essentially left states to fend for themselves, the states have been forced into a bidding war among themselves for ventilators and medical equipment.  Lately, as Trump has come under attack for doing too little too late to tackle the pandemic, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has even outbid the states.  Apparently, even as the pandemic rages on, the principles of the free economy must not be abandoned and vulturous capitalists must be rewarded.

Let us not even speak of the fact that, as has happened so often in the past, many Americans still think of “big government” with utter disdain and that the mere taint of “socialism” is enough to discredit a person such as Bernie Sanders in the eyes of a substantial portion of the electorate, but that no one appears to be objecting at this juncture to all but the wealthiest Americans receiving hand-outs from the federal government.  The questions that are coming to the minds of outsiders to the country are these: How has it come to pass that the United States, with a little less than one-fifth of China’s population, now accounts for a quarter of the world’s cases?  What can be more pathetic and disgraceful than the sight of the world’s wealthiest country having such disregard for its own people? What kind of spectacle does the United States, which is chockablock with Nobel Laureates in medicine and the sciences, and which prides itself on the most advanced medical care that can be found anywhere, present to the world when doctors, nurses, and health care workers repeatedly have to plead for supplies and when their lives have been put at risk?

The commonplace answers may be all too evident to many and yet, as I would suggest, are inadequate. The Boston Globe some days ago opined that Trump has “blood on his hands”, and that the megalomaniac President of the United States has made a spectacle of himself is transparent to everyone. It is on record that for days and weeks he even denied that there was any problem to begin with, confidently predicting on February 26th, when the US had 57 confirmed cases, that COVID-19 cases in America would be “down close to zero”.  His claim in the last few days that he can be viewed as having done “a very good job” if the death toll can be kept to 100,000, or even 200,000 people, speaks only to his insufferable arrogance and criminal insensitivity.  Trump’s argument that no one could predict the pandemic says nothing at all, and not only because neither could other countries: political leaders get tested not when everything is hunky-dory, but rather when a situation demands a response that is not written down in the existing playbook.  What is also germane is the substantial public discussion that has brought to light many other features of the political landscape, some shaped largely by the present government and others more characteristically a part of the American political imaginary:  these include, among others, the recent downgrading of government offices designed to address epidemics, the decline of public funding for virus-related scientific research, and the highly fragmented response to the pandemic, particularly in view of the colossal failure of the White House to understand the gravity of the problem, across local, city, and state agencies.

There are other many familiar parts to the narrative that Trump, his political acolytes in Congress, and Fox News, which is to the Trump regime what Goebbels’ propaganda ministry was to the Nazi regime, have put forward:  all point to the fact that that the present political regime has a callous disregard for the lives of ordinary Americans, just as this narrative obscures the most important considerations which might help explain why the most powerful and wealthy country in the world has been humbled.  It will suffice to bring only two considerations to the fore. First, though overall health care expenditures in the United States outstrip by far spending in any other country, the proportion spent on public health is far less than in other advanced industrialized nations. The British newspaper the Guardian, which often has better reporting on the United States than any American newspaper, put forward the argument graphically with this headline in one article:  “Hookworm, a disease of extreme poverty, is thriving in the US South.  Why?” American medicine is resolutely focused on surgical interventions, on helping Americans deflect the moment of death and prolonging the lives of the affluent, and on what may be called the pharmaceutical industrial complex.  This is only a small catalog of its many ills. There is little or no money to be made in public health; moreover, public health is often dismissed as inconsequential since, on the view of political and medical elites, the lives of the poor, the working-class, and the most disadvantaged minorities are worth little and are even expendable.  Everything in the extraordinarily belated, bumbling, even chaotic American response to the coronavirus pandemic points to the deep and pervasive inequalities in the United States and the criminal neglect of the American state towards its own poor, especially African Americans and native Americans.

Secondly, COVID-19’s course in the United States suggests that the narrative of American exceptionalism continues to reign supreme.  The most insistent and insidious aspect of this narrative, barring the tiresome rehearsal of the view that the United States is the glorious gift of some special divine dispensation, is the supposition that the United States generally has nothing to learn from other nations.  Germany, for instance, has a large number of cases, but a much lower fatality rate than Spain, Italy, France, and some other EU nations:  it would seem to have had considerable success in containing the virus by early, rigorous, and sustained testing.  Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea have been exemplary in deploying a series of measures that have had the effect of containing and then mitigating the spread of the virus, even as South Korea, in particular, seemed that it would become the next major “hotspot” of the virus after China—a country which on April 6th, for the first time in four months, has declared no new case of COVID-19.  American officials and some public commentators have, quite naturally, been trying rather assiduously to discredit the Chinese communist party’s account of the spread and eventual containment of the coronavirus disease in China, and the claim that China deliberately under-stated the number of infections is being heard with ever greater vigor.  No one doubts that the Chinese are adept at obfuscating the truth; but we should also not doubt that America has, time after time, shown that it is singularly unwilling to learn from other nations. There is much to fear from the coronavirus pandemic; but I fear, too, that the United States will be insufficiently, perhaps barely, chastened by this experience. It takes some gift to learn humility.

 

Subscribe to LA Social Science and be the first to learn more insight and knowledge from UCLA social science experts in upcoming video/audio sessions and posts dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professors Chandra L. Ford (UCLA), Bita Amani (Charles Drew University), Keith Norris (UCLA), Kia Skrine Jeffers (UCLA), and Randall Akee (UCLA), wrote the following open letter that outlines eight recommendations to prioritize equity in policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

An Open Letter to Policy Makers and Public Health Officials on

The Need to Prioritize Equity in Policy Responses to the COVID-19 Epidemic

 April 1, 2020

Aggressive actions are necessary to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the U.S. and the world. Some of these actions have resulted in policies of shelter-in-place, monitoring the movement and activities of the population, increased testing of the population and the closure of schools and other public assemblies. As experts in health disparities, however, we are concerned by a critical oversight that is likely to exacerbate the epidemic in the long run: the inadequate attention to health equity. Former president of the American Public Health Association (APHA), Dr. Camara Jones, defines health equity as “assurance of the conditions for optimal health for all people.” There is a crucial need to incorporate aspects of health equity into all public policies enacted to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past, when health emergencies have occurred, failure to acknowledge and address health equity generated persistent and preventable damage to populations that often worsened over time. For example, scholars have documented such experiences in Venezuela (1992-1993) and Haiti (2010) with cholera epidemics. Short term thinking focused only on the immediate disease agent (i.e., bacterium or virus) and did little to eliminate the societal inequities which fostered the environment for the pandemic in the first place. Those inequities shape the nature and impact of its spread.

Numerous studies document that racism, anti-immigrant sentiment and racial scapegoating facilitate the dismissal of the health concerns and perspectives of undocumented immigrants, racial/ethnic minorities, incarcerated persons, people living on reservations, people living in poor communities and other vulnerable communities. Often, the concerns and particular needs of these individuals are overlooked or dismissed in the creation of public health policies in times of need and crises.

Assumptions about the availability of and access to resources often do not reflect the reality for many of these distressed and overlooked communities. For instance, in recommending frequent handwashing, one must also ask whether this is feasible for residents of neighborhoods with unsafe (or unavailable) tap water to regularly wash their hands with warm water and soap? Or, is it realistic for people detained in the prisons to maintain social distances of at least six feet? If the answer to any such question is no, then we have a professional responsibility to develop appropriate alternatives. Failure to extend recommendations, testing and treatment to such populations in a timely and appropriate manner is tantamount to designing an intervention that ignores over them completely.

Drawing on more than 500 studies published over the last twenty years on how social injustices produce health inequities, we urge serious consideration of eight recommendations to prioritize equity in policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

1.     Prioritize the needs of diverse vulnerable populations at each stage of the response. These include, but are not limited to, immigrant communities, including the Chinese and Asian American communities that have already been the subject of online and in-person abuse and harassment, racial and ethnic minority communities, homeless persons, incarcerated persons, and people living in poor as well as rural communities.

2.     Challenge narratives of the epidemic that scapegoat Chinese people or other Asians. Stereotyping in this way leads to fear, rude or discriminatory treatment, delayed testing or care, and ultimately further spread of the virus.

3.     Ensure members of these populations have a seat at the leadership table in planning and carrying out the responses. That allows them to share directly the insights needed to develop effective, sustainable strategies for their communities.

4.     Develop multiple prevention and intervention strategies, some that address the needs of the overall population and others that address the unique needs of marginalized groups. Recognize that the circumstances affecting vulnerable populations are multilayered. Accordingly, the solutions needed in these populations warrant greater initial investments than do the solutions needed in more advantaged communities.

5.     Find out what the needs and wishes of these marginalized populations are. Many of the needs are shaped by longstanding structural inequalities, such as living in racially segregated neighborhoods, and related constraints affecting transportation, employment, education and healthcare access.

6.     Consider the obstacles to implementing any potential policy or strategy that may already exist in diverse populations and situations. For instance, some communities may have barriers to handwashing due to unsafe or unavailable water sources; they may also lack access to personal protective equipment (latex gloves, masks) or to healthcare providers.

7.     Allocate sufficient resources in the budget to implement the prevention and intervention strategies in the most marginalized communities. The budget must ensure the plan can be fully implemented.

8.     Acknowledge that all communities have and draw on resilience. Noted global health educator, Collins Airhihenbuwa, emphasizes that every community, no matter how marginalized, has sources of resilience. These sources of resilience enables communities to sustain themselves and persevere even after the public health professionals have left.

The evidence from history is clear. Movement toward equity has always required health equity champions to fight from inside while community members organized in the streets. Unless our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic challenge its racial framing and prioritize the needs of racial/ethnic minorities, immigrants, poor and other vulnerable groups, COVID-19 is likely to persist in these pockets of our society. As long as it does, COVID-19 will remain a threat to the health of all. It has been suggested that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable members. This is our chance to show how great and equitable a nation we can be.

Sincerely,

Chandra L. Ford, PhD, MPH, MLIS

Bita Amani, PhD, MHS

Keith Norris, MD, PhD

Kia Skrine Jeffers, PhD, RN, PHN, SAG-AFTRA

Randall Akee, PhD

UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Subscribe to LA Social Science and be the first to learn more insight and knowledge from UCLA social science experts in upcoming video/audio sessions and posts dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Female Neighbor Helping Senior Woman With Shopping
Photo Credit: https://salud-america.org

Dr. Daniel Fessler, Anthropologist and Director of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, discusses how an understanding of humanity’s past and present can help us to meet the personal, social, and political challenges posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Listen here:

You may also listen to the audio on YouTube HERE.

 

Check out our previous stories related to the research on kindness at UCLA:

Doing Good with Dr. Fessler

$20 Million Gift Establishes the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute in the Division of Social Sciences

 

Subscribe to LA Social Science and be the first to learn more insight and knowledge from UCLA social science experts in upcoming video/audio sessions and posts dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

 

Illo: iStock

March 21, 2020

In an opinion piece that was published today on CNN.com, UCLA sociology professors, Dr. Cecilia Menjívar, Dr. Jacob G. Foster, and Dr. Jennie E. Brand, recommend using the more accurate term “physical distancing” rather than the misleading term “social distancing” during the COVID-19 pandemic. They write: “In fact, when we practice physical distancing, we need social connectivity and social responsibility more than ever.” To read this informative piece titled, “Don’t Call It ‘Social Distancing,'” click HERE.