COVID-19

Covid-19

The novel coronavirus is a brand-new strain recently detected in humans. Coronaviruses are a big family of viruses that lead to sickness varying from the common cold to more serious ailments, for example, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The term “novel” means that the coronavirus is completely new and does not resemble anything previously known. New diseases do not have vaccines and as such, the novel coronavirus, otherwise referred to as Covid-19 does not have a vaccine. The disease was first reported in Wuhan, Hubei Province in China in December 2019 (Burke, 2020). The purpose of this commentary paper is to inform the Los Angeles audience of some facts about the novel coronavirus. This commentary paper will analyze the effects of Covid-19 on the environment – the lowest air pollution and people of color, in Los Angeles.       

Impact of Coronavirus on Environment – Lowest Air Pollution

Air pollution can be described as the existence of toxic compounds or chemicals (those of biological origin are also included) in the air, at extremely high levels, becoming a health risk to human beings. These impurities lower the quality of air and may reduce the quality of life (global warming and damaging the ozone layer) (Medlineplus, 2020). The cognitive image most people have of the Los Angeles sky is one hidden by smog, with dense air pollution hovering above the buildings in the downtown area. The stay at home orders in the entire state of California to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus has improved the air quality in Los Angeles (Kann, 2020).

The latest data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reveals that in March 2020, Los Angeles experienced the “best” air quality since 1995 for the most extensive period. On 20th March 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued America’s first statewide stay at home orders to help reduce the spread of the pandemic. At the time, 19 people had died and more than 900 people had tested positive for the virus. Californians leave their houses unless they are going for crucial activities such as going to work, seeking healthcare, medical prescriptions, or food. While issuing these orders, the Governor warned that in two months, more than half of the population in the state would be infected, according to projections. Between 16th March and April 6th, Dr. Yifang Zhu, a professor of environmental health sciences at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, together with his team discovered a 20% rise in good air quality in Southern California (Kann, 2020).       

Professor Zhu’s team also found out that traffic congestion had dropped by at least 80%. Further, they realized that atmospheric particulate matter (PM) 2.5 had reduced by 40%. PM 2.5, the world’s deadliest air pollutant (soot), is a kind of microscopic air pollutant that causes serious respiratory and cardiovascular health problems in the elderly and children. A Harvard study was done by Rachel C. Nethery and Xiao Wu also revealed that exposure to the pollutant PM 2.5 increases a person’s death due to Covid-19. Although the pollutant may come from many sources, in Southern California, it mainly comes from vehicle emissions in traffic. Air pollution has declined all over the world, from Europe and the USA to China and India, due to curfews and lockdowns imposed to contain the spread of the pandemic. Professor Zhu says that we don’t need a pandemic (that causes loss of wealth and life) to improve the quality of our air – we can take action (Kann, 2020).  

There is a direct relationship between climate change and coronavirus. A research conducted in April by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health revealed that people who have tested positive for covid-19 and live in cities with very high air pollution levels have higher chances of dying from the pandemic compared to people living in lesser polluted areas. Their study found out that polluted air makes covid-19 much more lethal. It is akin to adding gasoline to a fire. Gunn-Wright notes that Black Americans are predisposed to live in heavily polluted communities – toxic fumes – (because of the history of redlining and racial segregation), causing cancer, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease, making them more susceptible to developing more severe effects of coronavirus. Nitrogen dioxide emission levels and other greenhouse gas emissions levels have also significantly dropped in Los Angeles as a result of the movement restrictions imposed with effect from 20th March, at midnight (Ruiz, 2020).

Factories, that also contribute to air pollution, have been shut down and workers ordered to stay at home. A study by Laurent et al. revealed that air pollution significantly contributed to low birth weights in children born in Los Angeles (2014). They also concluded that most of the pollutants come from traffic congestion. The decline in carbon emissions and air pollution is an improvement for the globe and its inhabitants. Cleaner air is a relief for people who have tested positive for coronavirus since it helps them to breathe much more easily. Particulate matter in the air weakens the immune system, causes lung inflammation and respiratory tract because it promotes diabetes, breathing problems, heart disease, and hypertension. Current satellite images have recorded less air pollution over Los Angeles in comparison with the same period last year (Worland, 2020).    

Who do you feel is the most impacted by this pandemic and why?

Impact on people of color

Worldometers reports that as of 5th May 2020, the novel coronavirus disease had affected more than 1.2 million people in the United States of America, and more than 69,000 deaths reported (2020). America accounted for more than a third of the global coronavirus cases as of 5th May 2020. 3.6 Million people globally and more than 250, 000 deaths reported worldwide. In America, New York is the epicenter of the pandemic with more than 324, 000 total confirmed cases and more than 25,000 deaths as of 5th May 2020. The term “people of color” is used in America to describe people who are not white, including Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, and others (Malesky, 2014).

Wigglesworth (2020) states that Los Angeles County had more than 25, 000 confirmed positive cases, with more than 781 deaths by 5th May 2020. Los Angeles is the largest city in the American State of California. The American State of California has almost forty million inhabitants. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Area has around 13.1 million inhabitants (US Census Bureau, 2020). Scientists have repeatedly warned that people with cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, male sex, and older age have higher fatality rates. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, more black people have been either infected or died of the pandemic, more than any other race. There are several reasons for this. Due to ethnic and socio-economic inequalities, blacks are one of the most vulnerable populations, putting them at a greater risk of infections or death caused by Covid-19 (Yancy, 2020).

The latest Johns Hopkins University and American Community Survey shows that out of the 131 counties where the black population is prevalent, the rate of infection is 137.5/100 000 while the rate of death is 6.3/100 000 (Thebault et al., 2020). Some of the measures being advocated for, that will help flatten the curve include social distancing, using masks in public areas, and frequent washing of hands. The rate of infection in counties with a higher population of blacks is thrice nearly six times the death rate in counties where whites are the majority. Many factors cause this disproportion, such as health care disparities, overcrowding, socio-economic disparities, and housing (Yancy, 2020).

Most blacks work at the expense of personal and public health (Ahmed et al., 2020). Although pandemics aren’t biased on whom to infect, Black Americans have borne the brunt of the novel coronavirus pandemic due to conditions connected to the fact that the nature of their jobs requires them to work away from home, prejudice in healthcare, and poverty. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, a famous black American anesthesiologist admits that the Black population is also more likely to suffer from lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes (Gray, 2020). Such chronic illnesses are connected to structural racism and poverty, fueling the impacts of the pandemic. Surgeon Adams also admits that he suffers from asthma and high blood pressure like many other blacks, putting at a higher risk of developing severe effects of covid-19.

Another factor that has made Black Americans be the hardest hit population is the fact that most of the data shared by states and other areas overrepresent black Americans. In Los Angeles for example, although Black Americans make up 6% of the population in California, they make up 12% of the covid-19 deaths. This pattern is repeated across most of the States and Cities in America. Because of their social class, people of color do jobs that jeopardize them to possible infection (Gray, 2020). Their nature of jobs makes them face the population. Most of the people who work in grocery stores, nursing homes, and bus drivers are people of color.

Dr. Ebony Hilton revealed that in some cases, when people of color go for medical checkups, they are not adequately treated and other scenarios, the healthcare givers do not believe their symptoms. A 2012 survey from the University of Illinois at Chicago revealed that when black women visit hospitals, their breast cancer mammograms have lower chances of being seen by a specialist, and are mostly referred to a general radiologist. Blackheart patients who have symptoms of cardiac injury have lower chances of being seen by a specialist, according to the 2018 study. In April this year, a civil rights group wrote a letter to the US Health Secretary, Alex Azar, demanding him to publish the everyday records related to ethnic demographic information and daily data on patient outcomes, disease burden, and Covid-19 testing (AFP, 2020).

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law emphasized that this was an important step to guarantee booming public health feedback and to ensure that testing and care aren’t done in a biased way. The committee commented that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had already collected the data but was hiding it intentionally. Dr. Hilton added that it was in the best interest of all Americans altogether to devote themselves to solve the challenges, since – in contrast to the high rates of cancer or heart disease – the coronavirus wave advancing through people of color will eventually affect everyone else. She further noted that a healthcare system that does not offer medical treatment to minority groups and other people who belong to a lesser socio-economic status, by refusing to test them for the new coronavirus, they are sent back home, where they unknowingly continue to contact and infect their community. Infected grocery store workers continue with their work, and transmit the disease to the upper class when the latter goes to purchase food supplies from them (AFP, 2020).

Conclusion

This commentary paper analyzed the effects of Covid-19 on the environment – the lowest air pollution and people of color, in Los Angeles. Decreased economic activities in Los Angeles due to restrictions of movements placed by the government to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus have resulted in a decrease in the emission of air pollutants. As a result, the quality of fresh air has increased. The concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant which mainly originated from vehicle exhaust fumes, has plummeted. The city is currently enjoying the “cleanest” air in the past 25 years. Contaminated air increases a person’s chances of developing more adverse symptoms of covid-19 since it is a respiratory illness. Historical socio-economic disparities make people of color more susceptible to getting infected and dying from coronavirus since the nature of their work involves outdoor physical interactions with other people and they also live in congested neighborhoods where it is not possible to keep social distancing. Some studies have shown that counties that have people of color as the majority have reported higher rates of infection and death from the pandemic. Studies are also biased since they overrepresent people of color. Bias in access to healthcare has also disadvantaged people of color.   

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