I’m USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, and here’s The Backstory, a look at our biggest stories from the week. If you want to get The Backstory for free delivered to your inbox every week, sign up here.
“José Alfredo Reyes ‘wife and son put on personal protective equipment and entered his hospital room in San Diego.’ Can you hear us? Says Margarita Reyes. Her husband’s eyes remained closed, but her body shook.
“She leaned towards his ear and told him that her elderly mother, children and grandchildren would be fine. She told him that she loved him.
“Ten minutes later José Alfredo Reyes, 59, was dead.”
This is how our story begins about Latino farm workers dying from COVID-19. It is heartbreaking. Gross. Real. And a story repeating itself across the United States, but particularly in communities of color.
Journalists have been reporting this fact since the start of the pandemic. Communities of color have disproportionately more cases, more hospitalizations, worse outcomes and more deaths. People of color make up the majority in 62% of counties with the highest COVID-19 death rates, according to data compiled by USA TODAY.
In pandemic stories, you will read this line, “COVID, which disproportionately affects communities of color, ….” But this tragic fact deserves more than a clause. We set out to trace the root causes. What systems, policies or decisions have created such risk?
Journalists detailed the red line that united black families around a chemical plant in Louisiana. The poor working conditions that led to epidemics among Latinos in the Imperial Valley of California. The chronic and historical neglect that created anemic Native American health systems in New Mexico. The discrimination and language barriers that prevent Asian Americans from getting tested or seeking help in San Francisco. The housing segregation that has forced many black families to move into cramped apartments, multigenerational homes and housing projects in New Jersey.
What they found: Systemic racism was the common pre-existing condition.
“Melvina Musket watched her dying father through the cell phone screen. Her mouth was open, her eyes were closed and a beard covered her chin. She heard nurses crying in the background.” Jesus is waiting for you, “she said to him.”
It is the common thread of our story about the reasons for the spread of COVID-19 in McKinley County, New Mexico. The county ranks first in the state and sixth nationally for COVID deaths per capita. About 74% of McKinley County’s 71,367 residents are non-Hispanic Native Americans, primarily Navajo and Zuni.
A few weeks after Musket said these words to his father, he was dead. His mother would die five days after him.
“When people get sick with COVID now, they just talk about ‘Well they had pre-existing conditions’,” said Alan gomez, one of the journalists on the project which ends this week. “The amazing thing was to figure out why and to go back in history and put these points together, which they did 50, 60, 70, 80 years ago that caused these people to have these health issues. diminished.
Investigating the story that brought us today was a challenge, as was getting people to tell their stories.
“A lot of people didn’t want to talk,” said Marco della cava, who explored COVID in the Asian American community of San Francisco. “There is a stigma associated with even suggesting that you might have been around someone with COVID, it could imply that your job would be in jeopardy, your immigration status.”
Rick jervis contacted dozens of people affected by COVID to get to the four or five who would speak with him in Reserve, Louisiana, in an area known as “Cancer Alley.”
Karen Wilson’s story stays with him, because of the suddenness. She was talking to her younger brother, Jules Duhe, about having dinner, going to a New Orleans Saints game. “And it was literally like every day he was having trouble breathing. He goes to the hospital. Within days he was on a ventilator and that was the last time she heard. talk about him, ”Jervis said.
“It wasn’t just numbers on a page. It was real humans who lost people really, very close to them. And that involves a lot of human pain. It was really hard to do.”
Journalist Deborah Berry saw the pain but also found hope as she reported from Essex County, New Jersey.
“Despite the pain and the fear, the pastors, the activists, the mayor, the funeral director, the leaders of the tenants associations have mobilized to help their communities, to help families, to help themselves”, did she say.
“There was power and hope in that. (Videojournalist Jarrad henderson) and cried with some of them, but we also smiled and took deep breaths as we watched hundreds of city workers pack food for families and church volunteers line up people for get free tests. These communities are still in difficulty, but they kept hope. We left full of hope. “
“COVID has never been the great equalizer,” said Michellene Davis, executive vice president of RWJBarnabas Health in New Jersey in Berry. “It was the big magnifying glass. And so it amplified the inequalities, the lack of access, the disparities in health, all of that.
And that’s the point, our reporters have found.
“Pre-existing conditions happen for a reason,” Gomez said. “It’s not just genetics, it’s not their fault. There’s a reason everyone has these conditions. It’s something I’ve always thought about, but I don’t. I’ve never been able to report and learn. It really opened my eyes. “
And, Jervis said, until we recognize the policies of the past that created the problem we face now, we will never overcome them.
“In reporting a story like this, there’s a lot of defensiveness on the part of people, kind of like, ‘Hey, I didn’t do that. “And if that’s your immediate reaction, what you do is turn a blind eye to the situation and how it can be changed,” Jervis said. “The more people can recognize it and talk about it, the more we can find concrete solutions.
“But if there is a denial that it even exists, we are all in trouble.”
Nicole Carroll is the editor of USA TODAY. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter here. Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free experience, or e-journal replica here.