Social Justice Recap: Effects of COVID-19

With news coverage focused on the the latest coronavirus updates, a deeper context can often be lost to the hype. We wanted to know: how are social justice issues being affected by the pandemic?   

Effects on Marginalized Groups  

New data presented by the Human Rights Campaign has shown how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting marginalized groups.   

Compared to other cities and states – such as Michigan, where the Black community accounts for 14 percent of the population, 32 percent of confirmed cases, and 41 percent of deaths – COVID-19 has affected African-Americans proportionately in Oregon.   

However, the Hispanic population in Oregon has beeen disproportionaly affected. According to Oregon Health Authority data, Hispanics represent almost 30% of positive coronavirus cases, despite accounting for 13.3% of the overall population.   

The disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on people of color are further seen in other places across the country. In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, African Americans make up 1,100 of the 2,791 confirmed cases and 86 of its 164 deaths, despite accounting for 26 percent of the overall population. ProPublica claims that this disproportionality is due in part to the fact that black populations are at higher risk of chronic conditions that increase vulnerabaility to the virus due to environmental, economic, and political factors that are barriers to quality healthcare.  

The HRC also found that LGBTQ+ populations are being adversely affected by the pandemic. The Grio reported that LGBTQ+ people are more vulnerable to the virus for multiple reasons. “17 % of LGBTQ people lack health coverage; one in five LGBTQ people have not seen a doctor when they needed to because they couldn’t afford it, and 37% of LGBTQ adults smoke every day compared to 27 percent of non-LGBTQ people. Lastly, 21 % of LGBTQ people have asthma, compared to 14 percent of non-LGBTQ people.”   

LGBTQ+ populations are also more likely to work in highly affected industries, and to experience poverty and homelessness without access to quality healthcare.   

In general, impoverished populations and those experiencing homelessness are more at risk for contracting the virus. As of April 16, Multnomah County has reported two cases of COVID-19 in its homeless population. Because unhoused individuals often live in crowded shelters and campsites, social distancing can be next to impossible. In addition, many unhoused individuals are older and have chronic medical conditions. In Corvallis, shelters are struggling to socially distance in close quarters and some are not currently taking more intakes. See our recent coverage for more info, and how you can contribute.  

Criminal Justice  

COVID-19 has put a spotlight on prisons and potential criminal justice reform, as incarcerated individuals are unable to properly avoid becoming sick.   

An article from The Intercept states, “Close and often unhygienic quarters can compound the spread of a disease. That makes prisons potential hot spots for the spread of the new coronavirus — and increasing numbers of cases are being documented.”   

Seven inmates recently filed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections and Gov. Kate Brown, accusing them of violating their Eighth Amendment rights by not adequately protecting prison populations against COVID-19. As of April 28, there have been 33 positive COVID-19 cases reported in Oregon’s prisons.  

Oregon leaders are considering the early release of 2,836 inmates in response to the virus’ spread. Some prosecutors are opposing this potential action, citing concern for community safety and victims’ rights.   


With fewer cars on the road, fewer planes taking off, and factories shut down, emissions have dropped. NASA recently found that nitrogen oxide levels in some parts of the country have been considerably lower than usual. “Though variations in weather from year to year cause variations in the monthly means for individual years, the data indicates that the NO2 levels in the last month are about 30% lower over the Florida Peninsula when compared to the mean of 2015 to 2019. In fact, March 15 – April 15 2020 shows the lowest value for the region as compared to any other year during the OMI data record, which spans 2005 to present.”   

Additionally, the UK climate change coverage site Carbon Brief recently stated that greenhouse gas emissions may even drop by 4 percent in 2020 because of the pandemic.  

When quarantines subside, some experts predict that governments trying to rouse economies may completely erase these temporary improvements. The pandemc may also mean less political and social focus on the environment, with opposition by Republican members of Congress to include Green New Deal aspects in stimulus packages. Environmental justice events are also being cancelled or held online – meaning less information is traveling between members of society, which could potentially be detrimental to the environmental justice movement.  

By Cara Nixon