Air Pollution + COVID-19: Connecting the Dots to Save Black & Brown Lives

June 16, 2020

Across the US, Black, Latinx and Indigenous peoples and other communities of color are suffering the worst impacts of COVID-19. In Washington DC, 74% of all COVID-19 deaths as of June 9th were among Black residents, even though they make up 44% of the city’s overall population. In New Mexico, the death rate among Indigenous communities is 19 times higher than all other populations combined. And in Maryland, 32% of the total COVID-19 cases to date have been in the Latinx community, although it makes up only 8% of the state’s total population. As more states, counties, and cities release racial data on COVID-19 cases, the glaring inequitable impacts of the virus are laid bare for all to see.

What is harder to see, however, is how certain environmental factors, like air pollution, contribute to communities of color’s vulnerability to the virus. It is well-documented that Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities are more likely to live near and be exposed to higher amounts of dangerous air pollution than white populations, and a recent Harvard study has found that even a small increase in the fine particulate matter — the microscopic particles of pollution — in the air we breathe can increase COVID-19 mortality rates

Connecting the dots between air pollution and COVID-19 cases and deaths impacting BIPOC communities is essential to finding solutions to reduce the risk factors that contribute to the inequitable impacts of the virus and future respiratory disease outbreaks. Solutions such as switching away from polluting gasoline-powered vehicles in cities, highways, and ports, and investing in clean cars, trucks, and buses, as Dr. Shelley Francis of EV Hybrid Noire so eloquently argues in her recent articles here and here.

Resource Media is creating graphics to help draw greater attention to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color in some of the hardest-hit areas (see example above). We hope these help support those advocating for greater investments in clean transportation and a healthier future for frontline communities and all Americans. Please feel free to use and share our graphics, and please let us know if you do.

— Debbie Slobe