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Reparations for slavery could have reduced COVID transmission and deaths in the US, study finds

In a peer-reviewed study, researchers from Harvard make the case for reparations to be included in COVID relief strategies.

Reparations for slavery could have reduced COVID transmission and deaths in the US, study finds
Image Source: Getty Images/ Pop-Up Vaccination Clinics In Louisville, KY Churches Target Black Communities. (Photo by Jon Cherry)

Over the course of the pandemic, Black communities have been the worst affected. Black Americans have experienced mortality and infection rates at a disproportionate rate in comparison to their White counterparts. In light of this, a group of Harvard researchers has found that reparations for slavery could have inhibited the transmission of Coronavirus within these communities. Their peer-reviewed study examined how reparation payments made before the pandemic would have affected, in particular, the state of Louisiana. Findings conclude that that the payments could have reduced Coronavirus transmission in the state anywhere between 31 percent to 68 percent, CNN reports.




"The effects of racial justice interventions on Black/White health disparities are rarely investigated, which forms part of how systemic racism is reproduced," Dr. Eugene Richardson, an assistant professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School and an author of the study, said in an email to the news outlet. "Our study simply gives yet another example of how racism gets into people's bodies and makes them sick, which can be added to this litany (of evidence for reparations)." The research team's study, published earlier this month in the journal Social Science & Medicine, emphasizes the importance of a pandemic strategy that considers the racial gap in transmission rates.




Reparations, that is, payments made to African American descendants of slaves, could narrow the racial wealth gap that exists in the United States today. This, in turn, would improve outcomes for healthcare, housing, education, employment, and more within Black communities. The group modeled how reparations would have affected the transmission of the disease in Louisiana, one of the first states to report cases by race at the beginning of the pandemic. Louisiana is also still "highly segregated." To further understand the nuance of racial disparity, researchers compared the state to South Korea, a "relatively egalitarian society that does not have a large, segregated subgroup of the population composed of the descendants of enslaved persons."




Creating a statistical model that would pay $250,000 in reparations per person or $800,000 per household using R-naught, a mathematical term that represents the average number of people an infected person spreads the virus to, the research team concluded that Louisiana took twice as long as South Korea to bring the R-naught value below one. This is "the critical value at which an outbreak will die out in a population." Had the United States introduced reparations well before the pandemic hit the country, closing the racial equity gap, Coronavirus transmission in the state could have been reduced between 31 percent and 68 percent for residents of all races.




The study is proof that institutional racism has resulted in measurable disadvantages for Black families, which only heightens the risk of Coronavirus transmission. Dr. Richardson affirmed, "These risks are structural, that is, not determined by personal choice or rational assessment." Unfortunately, the mismanagement of the pandemic has only "exacerbated these disparities," according to the researchers. Therefore, they argue that any effective relief strategy would include reparations for Black communities.



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