COVID-19 is proof of just how socially determined health is

A virus doesn’t care how much money you have or where you live. Yet, the pandemic has shown in the starkest terms that inequality kills—and what to do about it.

By Shayla Love, VICE

In late March, when TV journalist Chris Cuomo announced that he had COVID-19, his brother Andrew, the governor of New York, tweeted in response: “This virus is the great equalizer.”

Around the same time, Madonna expressed a similar sentiment. Posting a video filmed in a bathtub filled with rose petals, she said, “That’s the thing about COVID-19. It doesn’t care about how rich you are, how famous you are, how funny you are, how smart you are, where you live, how old you are, what amazing stories you can tell.”

Technically, it’s true that a virus doesn’t care how much money you have, if you need to be on TV the following night, or run a country—all it “wants” is to find a host to infect so as to replicate itself. In this way, a global pandemic might be conceived of as a levelling force, indiscriminately threatening all echelons of a society.

That’s what happened, to some extent, in past pandemics. In 1630, when the plague hit Northern Italy, it killed 35 percent of the population. Jacob Soll, a professor of history at the University of Southern California, recently wrote in Politico that the mass casualties of the Black Death set the stage for the Italian Renaissance.

The plague slowed down economic inequality—so many people had died that there was an increase in wages and affordable housing. The city government became open to people in lower guilds and literacy levels skyrocketed. “For a time, Florence’s economy bounced back with remarkable social mobility, and it became Europe’s premier center of artistic, cultural and scientific creativity,” Soll wrote.

This is not what is happening in the United States with COVID-19. Instead of evening the playing field, the pandemic has instead exposed how deep and embedded our social inequities are, and amplified how much factors like income, education, housing, race, and social status can impact health outcomes. Read more …