New data shows racial disparities in Vt. COVID-19 rates

Published: Dec. 17, 2020 at 7:11 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 17, 2020 at 7:25 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - New data from the Vermont Health Department shows how systemic and structural racism disproportionally affects Vermonters of color, making them more susceptible to the coronavirus.

As the state works to distribute a vaccine, they say they’re working to make sure everyone has the opportunity to get it. Discussions over racial inequities in Vermont are being examined through a different lens as new data shows a disproportionate share of Vermonters of color are exposed to COVID-19.

“The Vermont I experience as a white person and my health conditions and my experience with health care is not necessarily the same Vermont as a person of color experiences,” said Tracy Dolan, Vermont’s deputy health commissioner.

Data shows about 35,000 Black, indigenous and people of color make up about 6% of Vermont’s population. That 6% makes up 18% of Vermont’s roughly 6,000 COVID19 cases. Experts say this is in part, because of factors beyond their control.

During the pandemic, health officials have urged us all to work from home if we can. But for low-income Vermonters who may work in fields with greater risk of exposure, there’s a greater risk of them bringing it home and spreading it among their household, especially if they live in intergenerational households or smaller spaces.

Access to education is also a factor in the interconnected web of public health.

“That impacts people’s lifetime earning potential, where they can afford to live, whether they can afford to live and what sectors they end up working in,” said Xusana Davis, the director of racial equity for the state of Vermont.

And as a vaccine is rolled out, the Health Department says they’re working to make sure minority groups are near the top of the priority list. State leaders are in the process of reaching out to minority communities with listening sessions, meeting with community leaders and setting the record straight about the vaccine. They hope to achieve communication about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine by partnering with community organizations.

“We know there may be increase vaccine hesitancy among some groups and we want to address that,” Dolan said.

These factors that came to the surface during the pandemic have been happening for a long time in Vermont and across the country, even when life was “normal.” State leaders say the solution lies in action at the local level.

“It means investment in all of the sectors where inequity has presented itself,” Davis said. “We have reams and reams of data that show us the way, all we have to do is act on it.”

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