Editorial: COVID-19 casts a bright, if harsh, light on our society

The tumultuous recent months — with America largely shut down and millions of us sheltered in our homes — has highlighted many different aspects of the society in which we live and how it functions.

The massive public health crisis playing out before our eyes — in our communities daily and on the news relentlessly — shines a bright, and not altogether flattering, light on many other issues central to our ongoing culture wars, bringing them to the forefront. 

A portion of our population, for example, wants immigration at the southern border stopped cold. But if these people are paying any attention, they also know who is harvesting and processing food on farms and in factories across the country. 

A recent news story about a single poultry processing plant in the South showed a roomful of Hispanic workers. It sure doesn’t look like white people want to process dead chickens or pigs or cut lettuce on farms in California. But other people are doing it — and we have food because of them, not in spite of them. 

The lack of any level-headed consistency in our politics in the midst of this crisis is just mind-boggling. Maybe we don’t need millions of coronavirus tests; maybe we need IQ tests. Demonstrators — some carrying semi-automatic weapons with extra magazines, as if an attack from the deep state were imminent — compare themselves to civil rights icon Rosa Parks as they demand that businesses and government be reopened. Masks? Social distancing? Nah. Assault weapons? You bet. Modern-day versions of Rosa Parks? Talk about ignorant. 

People on the right will sharply attack the staggering national debt when a Democrat is in office; but when it skyrockets to record levels under a Republican, they play dumb. Suddenly, trillions in debt that taxpayers will have to deal with generations from now doesn’t matter. 

Until just a few weeks ago, opponents attacked a Democratic candidate for president as a socialist, even a communist. But they say nothing when a Republican approves trillions in government aid to fight the economic downturn. We guess there is bad socialism and good socialism. It just depends on who is doing it.

But the most alarming revelation for America is what this pandemic demonstrates about the different realities that exist in the many layers of our society, circa 2020 — and, in particular, who is dying from the coronavirus. 

Consider these numbers from the New York State Department of Health: Hispanics make up 12% of New York’s population and account for 14% of confirmed deaths from COVID-19. Black people make up 9% of the population and represent 18% of those deaths. 

Nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black people make up 30% of all COVID-19 patients, but constitute just 13% of the overall population. 

On the other side of this crisis, our nation will unquestionably have to wrestle with the multiple reasons for these disparities. Health care inequity has long been part of society; now, however, it is leading to dramatically higher death and infection rates for African and Hispanic Americans.

As we move forward, we cannot fail to acknowledge and learn from these inequities and, finally, confront them head on. But government alone cannot solve these problems with a snap of the fingers. All of us — as individuals, communities and citizens — must also participate in the search for answers.