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This is my nightmare: Covid-19 meets racism meets the killing of yet another Black person by a police officer.

Some weeks back, in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, I had a discussion about worst-case scenarios with a colleague in emergency management. Top of mind for him as we head into hurricane season was the fear of a natural disaster in the midst of this pandemic.

My biggest fear as a Black woman and public health leader was the all-too-likely murder of an unarmed Black person at the hands of police leading to mass protests amid the virulence of two infectious diseases: racism and Covid-19. And here we are, a few weeks later, in the nightmarish scenario I can’t unsee: Black America and allies, rightfully angry and fed up with 400-plus years of racist violence and white supremacy, taking to the streets to protest in cities around the country and the world.


As we watched the gruesome suffocation and murder of George Floyd, we did so in self-isolation — left to scream and cry in horror alone during a pandemic that’s disproportionately snatching the lives and economic footing of Black people. It came on the painful heels of the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, Michael Brown Jr., Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Emmett Till — to name just a few — along with the millions of Black bodies lost to slavery, Jim Crow, preventable health inequities, and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Covid-19 continues to unearth the racist and unjust cracks in our society. Black people make up the majority of low-wage workers who remain on the frontlines in positions that don’t permit them the privilege to work from home, leverage paid sick leave, or access personal protective equipment.


Thanks to a history of redlining and race-based residential segregation, many of these low-wage workers are living in close, cramped housing that makes social distancing all but impossible. On top of this, a dearth of federal- and state-level racial and ethnic data on Covid-19 cases and deaths continues to devalue the humanity of Black people and leave us in the dark about the true impacts of this pandemic on our communities — all while resources have been inequitably allocated to favor communities with food security, insurance coverage, internet access, and reliable transportation. Let me be clear: It’s racism — and not race — that’s the culprit here.

Some of the symptoms of Covid-19 are temporary loss of senses, hallucinations, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. The symptoms of racism are strikingly similar.

Temporary loss of senses: see Amy Cooper, who distorted the voice of a calm, measured Black man and bird watcher in New York’s Central Park into one that was threatening her life. And cc Carolyn Bryant Donham, who did the same to Emmett Till.

Hallucinations: see Darren Wilson, the killer of Michael Brown Jr., in Ferguson, Mo., who described the unarmed 18-year old as a “demon, and Hulk Hogan-like figure” as justification for shooting him.

Difficulty breathing? See centuries of transcripts citing police officers stating “shortness of breath” or “trouble breathing” moments after the murder of a Black person.

Black America is very clear on the pathology, symptoms, diagnosis, manifestations, evolution, and antidote for the malignant disease of racism, yet it remains largely unrecognized, undiagnosed, untreated, and unbothered in white America. While a vaccine for Covid-19 is in development, no sweeping cure currently exists for racism.

Protesting racism is necessary. Doing it during a pandemic, however, is my deepest public health nightmare. It’s nearly impossible to stay 6 feet apart in a crowd and there’s an increased chance of person-to-person Covid-19 transmission in a crowd that is already at heightened risk.

There will never be a convenient time to dismantle racism. Protests of the civil rights movement came with the risk of beatings, water hoses, and deadly force — not unlike what we’re seeing today. But the stakes are even higher in the center of a deadly and insidious pandemic. Protester or not, all of us can take action to protect the safety and health of the Black community and stand in solidarity in this pivotal moment.

If you choose to protest publicly, wear masks and gloves, especially if the march or demonstration involves holding hands. Carry hand sanitizer and try your best to keep 6 feet of empty space between you and others, even while marching. When you get home, immediately wash your clothes and take a shower.

State and local leaders should prioritize safety and equity for Black communities in their Covid-19 response. They should reconsider the use of pepper spray, since the coughing it provokes increases the risk transmitting Covid-19. Law enforcement officers should be trained in equity and de-escalation tactics.

Non-Black allies can stand with us in solidarity and unity. The white community, in particular, should leverage its position of privilege to make systemic, anti-racist changes, starting with themselves, their families, and their networks.

I’m tired and I know you are too. Racism is exhausting: It was created to exhaust our bodies, our resources, and our talents. But we can’t let it. In a system that was never created for us to survive, self-preservation is a form of resistance.

Covid-19 shouldn’t be ravaging the Black community. George Floyd didn’t have to die. His murderers should be in jail. Black people shouldn’t have to justify their humanity every second of every day. Yet all of that is why we are where we are as a country today — full of unrest, anger, resentment, and hurt.

The layers of pain and anguish are unspeakable and the Black community is the only one told to swallow the pain and move on. This time, we refuse to.

Lauren Powell leads the work of Time’s Up in the health care industry. She previously led the Office of Health Equity for the state of Virginia’s Department of Health.

Hear Powell talk more about public health on an episode of the “First Opinion Podcast.”

  • For one the confederacy didn’t bring the blacks here the Spanish n portugeese did there were as many black confederate soldiers as white learn your history before showing your stupidity one thing in this country worse than racism is ignorance get educated before you run your dumbass mouth

  • Reading more of the OP ED, the writer is, as one could guess from her grievance mongering about race, a general grievance monger involved in TimeUp.
    I realize women get unwanted sexual attention, and every woman has been made uncomfortable by it – and of course, in the workplace it is an ongoing problem, it is never going to end.

    But the attitude of the TimesUp people is extremist and ought not to be condoned by reasonable people. First off, the name itself “TimesUp” was meant to convey the claim, which many sincerely believe, that sexual harassment was rampant until just now, that they have come along to stop it.

    This is total nonsense- anyone familiar with corporate life knows executives have been terrified of any kind of accusation like that – does not mean it all stopped of course – but terrified of any such accusation for decades. Time has BEEN up.

    Additionally, if you follow the extremists who are involved in running that organization, and like ones, you see they are not interested in sorting out credible accusations from those which can not be verified. They got caught out a bit with the accusations against Biden – which were never credible – because Tara Reade first made believable accusations, basically Biden was not respectful of personal space – then when that did not get much attention, changed it to him sexually assaulting her apropos of nothing – certainly not impossible in itself, but no explanation was offered about why the story changed so radically.

    This author is a grievance monger – such people are not at all reliable, about ANYTHING – it could be a racial grievance, sexual grievance, or even just “Mom always loved you more” – they can not be trusted to articulate on legitimate complaints and ought not to be given any forum.

  • Same old tired “it’s all white people’s fault” stuff.

    You have a country with 330 million people – one black man get’s kiled – and I think he was murdered and the cop, and at least one of the other cops present needs to be prosecuted – and that is reason for riots all over?

    NO, NO, NO – I absolutely reject that. The claim of an epidemic of violence against black men, by white police, or white people generally, is just a myth. Sure, it happens, but it is a rarity. In a country with about 15 million black men, it happens several times a year – but it is still rare – and about half of the incidents which are promoted as proof of racism fall apart – did the cop really think the unarmed guy had a gun, or did he lie about that just to shoot down a random black man he had never seen before? No way to know, but the cop’s story is plausible typically. ]

    Black people have been TOLD they are victims so many times, many believe it, but it is mostly a huge myth. The rates of black men being killed by cops are very much in line with the rates of black crime, which are extremely high. The problem can not be resolved as long as politicians and racemongers tell black people they are being abused, and media repeats it as gospel truth.

    Another serious problem is the numbers of people, many white, who believe it is their job to protest their local cops when one cop in a place far away did something wrong. The fatuity and delusion of these people is incredible.

    NO, you are NOT making things better at all – you are just encouraging people to feel abused when they are not. You are NOT saving the black people in your town from abuse by the cops, who are NOT abusing them to begin with. And although your intentions may be good, ultimately you are giving cover to black predators who are terrible abusers of everyone around them – to, in the case of my city, loot and burn the stores we need – or many other types of abuse.

    This is a “problem” entirely created by the media – white people get killed by the cops, wrongly, just as frequently – but the media can not make a racial issue out of it, so it is not promoted and does not go into the grievance machine.

    • just wanna point out that lots of opportunists who looted and burned stores are white. Being unable to tell white looters from African American protestors tells me that you have an implicit bias against black people. Also, your last paragraph makes no sense unless you can provide some statistical evidence. Stop making yourself and the entire white community victims.

    • You are correct, a lot of the looters are white, I have seen them come into Oakland under any pretext – something happened in Timbuktu and they come to “protest” and break windows and steal – white suburban punks up to no good. I fully understand that, and understand the genuine protesters were trying to stop the punks and thugs from ruining things.

      From what I have read, the difference in the rate of black vs. white people killed by cops is the same as the difference in the crime rate. I will look for stats.

    • I am not sure what your statement means – does it mean if someone is biased against one “race” he will be biased against all which are not his own? I really do not understand your statement.

  • I couldn’t get past your first paragraph. I can try to understand how upset you are, for sure. As much as I find the officer who did this 100% criminally responsible for what he did. And I can agree that many black Americans today are struggling and having a difficult time in American society. Still, calm heads need to prevail and throwing everything but the kitchen sink at society – white society at that – is really not a step in the right direction. This kind of rhetoric just escalates things. So I think you have to decide, what you really want. You want to escalate it or you want to see society improve for all of us and to make room for that to happen.

  • Was this written by a woman that is worth over $21 billion dollars. If so maybe she should donate some of her money to help the crisis! I am so tired of people going out and destroying their communities. I am disgusted with the officers actions not sure how stealing and burning is helping anything. Hope all these criminals get what they deserve!

    • No, you are mistaking Lauren Powell of “Time’s Up” for Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs. As for stealing and burning, the 99.5% of the protestors who did not riot are undoubtedly sick of it too.

    • Unfortunately we have seen very clearly we can not rely on the authorities to make good recommendations. Gloves which cost a total 15 cents can be used to pump gas with the handle used by 500 people in the past two days or so – I do not know the odds of infection, but why take any chance? They told us not to use face maaks a few months back – if we had been using them, all the evidence (the fact the epidemic has not exploded since partial reopening) is we would have had tens of thousands fewer deaths.

  • I am an Indian not aware of the deep history, but aware enough to know the current crisis in the wake of George Flyod is deplorable.Your article brilliantly brings across the points very well.Thanks for writing this.

  • Excellent reasoning. One more result of racism is that children of color are alarmingly more likely to have asthma than white children, due to substandard housing and excessive stress. Is there any way the FDA can be persuaded to deregulate overpriced medications for pediatric asthma so these children can breathe freely?

    My heart aches for all of you.

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