Connecticut, COVID, and Systemic Racism

The national media like the New York Times as well as small-market media like the Hartford Courant have extensively documented the disparate impact COVID has had on minorities. In Connecticut, the media has implied racism during Democrat governor Ned Lamont’s tenure. If you didn’t know better, you would think that even Democrat and therefore immune administrations like Lamont’s are “systemically racist” based on how it’s handling of COVID vaccination is described. To most casual observers, that may seem counterintuitive, since it is a Democrat administration and therefore socially conscious and progressive. But the continued coverage of this issue, including a recent article in the Courant (3/27/21) titled “Racial disparities in CT’s Covid vaccination rollout are supposed to be narrowing. They’re not,” implies differently. After all, “systemically racist” institutions, it is thought, often hide behind anti-racist rhetoric such as when Lamont compared racism to COVID as a “contagion” and that “there is such a small margin for error in COVID and in racism... and if we let that door swing ajar, it’s incredible how fast that infection can spread.”

Talk is cheap. Even Gov. Lamont’s excessive, and by definition nonmeritorious, success in hiring lots of women and minorities could be seen as a smokescreen for this suspected system. When it comes to race, one can never be progressive enough. Even a solidly Democrat base constituency, a union, noted: as “protests rage across the state and country... Lamont continues to support policies that oppress American minorities in the workplace.” And not just in the workplace -- in matters of life and death also, like COVID. No matter the area of society, the system is at work hurting minorities in some mysterious way -- despite all institutions being made up of actual human beings. Lamont claims to allocate vaccines “proportionately” to all populations. But how does one know? Are we being fooled?

In CT, the Lamont response to criticism has been to implement a target meant to help close the vaccination gap between whites and residents of color. But the disparities have grown. What accounts for this? In today’s media -- and to some extent in the public at large -- it’s an effect-cause easy answer: disparity equals racism, which accounts for the perception of Gov. Lamont’s failure here. It may appear like “progress,” but as Queen put it in "Bohemian Rhapsody," perhaps its “!”

If Lamont was not a Democrat, the current media coverage, although not positive, would be decidedly less so – similar to how George W. Bush was portrayed after Hurricane Katrina when he was lambasted for carelessness caused by racism. It would probably not be quite as bad as that, since Katrina was such a catastrophe. But a non-Democrat Lamont would be eyed suspiciously, and likely condemned by many, of racism.

The Lamont administration had decided to allocate vaccines in a “socially progressive” way to benefit those in certain groups. The administration uses the CDC Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) that allocates doses according to 15 criteria such as: % below poverty, per capita income, % persons aged 25+ with no high-school diploma, % single-parent households with children under 18, % minority, % 5 and older who speak English less than well, % housing with 9+ units, % households with more than one person/room, % households with no vehicle, etc. Looking at each criterion, what do they have to do with vaccine distribution fairness? They are designed to benefit some groups over others. Especially when it comes to life and death, there should be no designed favoritism by the government.

But is “systemic racism” a fabrication? It has been embraced by many on the far left, but I suspect the majority of the population doesn’t agree and are cowed into silence. Systemic racism -- is unseen -- it can’t be measured -- it is completely unscientific -- it doesn’t matter! It is like the Middle Ages before the Enlightenment (The Age of Reason) when orthodox religion, not science, ruled society. We are moving more and more away from science and toward a new religious orthodoxy -- postmodernism. That people like Galileo who moved away from orthodox religion and toward science were criticized/persecuted, matters not. In fact, postmodernism, which critics say has taken over the social sciences in the last 30 or so years and is creeping into engineering and math, specifically rejects truth, objectivity, and logic. The previous hallmarks of Western Civilization. The not-so-new thinking is that everything is socially constructed and nothing is innate, where everyone’s “truth” is different and “real.” I have pointed out to some of these advocates: if that is true, then by definition everything they say is meaningless (since it can’t be true, objective or logical) -- but they are defensive and unmoved. You may as well shut down all the research organizations now, according to this thinking.

Government policies that are designed to benefit one group over another should be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That clause essentially states that no State shall make/enforce a law which abridges the privileges/immunities of U.S. citizens nor deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process or the equal protection of the law. But freewheeling (mostly positively-motivated -- think Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer) activist judges expand on meanings of words and make them whatever they like. So, in that light, disparity, in the absence of evidence, is nonetheless a result of systemic racism.

However, despite Lamont’s efforts, the administration has fallen short of its SVI driven index of a 25% allocation to communities of color. Before the targets went into effect, “16% of white residents had received at least one vaccine dose, compared with about 7% each of Black and Hispanic residents.” After the targets went into effect, the disparities increased from 37% for whites, 20% for Blacks, and 17% for Hispanics. But the administration points out many reasons for this, including that for a portion of those vaccinated, race was not recorded, the state’s focus on age-based rollout skew to the majority white older crowd, state officials have taken steps to increase the goal beyond what is proportional, it takes time for these systems to adjust/provide more access, there are non-race barriers like technology, transportation, and language, a partnership with Access Health to increase additional outreach in 10 high-risk municipalities is occurring. If true, these are all legitimate reasons for disparities.

The irony is that the last thing I would want to see withheld from any human being of any race, color, etc. is a vaccination for a serious illness that can cause death, but therein lies the problem. If one group is favored, by definition that means others are not. It’s a dilemma one cannot escape from unless it is done 100% scientifically and without favoritism.

“Blah, blah, blah,” a systemic racism believer would say. That would be blind indoctrination talking. Here’s a disparity for you: notice the quote above and throughout the Courant article where “whites” is not capitalized while “Blacks” is -- this is a “good” disparity -- nothing to see here, move along. If one allows science/facts to be replaced by feelings/opinion, any case can be made and never be disproven. Democrats need to wake up and realize that these types of extremist illogical doctrines are what got Trump elected and what surely will flip the Congress in 2022. Mark it down.

The writer is the former director of the Connecticut Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis and a former University of Connecticut Chief of Staff. Twitter:

Image: CT Dept. of Public Health

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