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Studies show public's recognition of COVID-19's racial disparities is starting to fade

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Posted at 2:37 PM, Dec 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 13:47:47-05

Americans' views on health, equity and race have fundamentally changed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the start of the pandemic, most people recognized the virus had a more significant health and economic impact on communities of color. They also recognized the role systemic racism played in poorer health outcomes in general.

Now, new research shows that those views are beginning to fade.

The findings come from a series of surveys by the Robert Johnson Wood Foundation and RAND, a nonprofit. They've been talking to those most affected by COVID-19 as well as those affected by the racial reckoning the country has experienced since the death of George Floyd.

"It suggests to us that it's not that we take our eye off the ball in terms of talking about systemic racism, but perhaps how we talk about it as people get back to their day-to-day lives," said Anita Chandra, the vice president and director of RAND. "We'll need to shift to make it more locally relevant and to show people that it does affect their neighbors and their communities on a day-to-day basis."

The groups found some people may be suffering from pandemic fatigue, which could also explain the increasing distrust in state government. However, the findings show that people still see the pandemic as an opportunity for positive change.

"We saw a growth in the number of Americans thinking that we needed to do something about improving access to healthcare — more Americans seeing access to healthcare as a right, which was not something that we saw a few years ago," Chandra said.

Chandra also acknowledged that there is a lot of action happening on the local level to improve health equity. Those changes include examining policies that make equity issues better or worse and testing certain programs for equity.

Chandra believes getting into deeper conversations about the meaning of systemic racism can make a difference.

"We've got to talk about it in terms of fairness and access to opportunity and not simply in terms of just racial inequity, which can be difficult for Americans to really process and understand," she said.