The neighborhoods hit hardest by the novel coronavirus pandemic are virtually the same neighborhoods hit hardest by extreme heat, Politico reports. The overlap is a striking illustration of the compounding harms of environmental racism. “Extreme weather events across the board are increasing in severity and frequency and duration,” Sonal Jessel, director of policy for WE ACT for Environmental Justice, told Politico. “What is concerning is that it is the same communities that are not given adequate resources or investments to be prepared for these types of events or rebuild after these events happen. They get hit over and over and over again.”
The legacy of racist redlining policies, including the dearth of greenspace that worsens heat islands, makes extreme heat worse in neighborhoods predominantly populated by people of color. “Extreme weather, period, whatever it is, it impacts communities of color in a disparate way,” said Heather McTeer Toney, a senior adviser to Moms Clean Air Force and climate justice liaison for the Environmental Defense Fund.
Deadly extreme heat
Extreme heat, made worse and more frequent by human-caused climate change, kills more people than any other type of extreme weather — and that’s before COVID-19 is taken into account. “Climate change disproportionately impacts folks of color. So following a disaster, these people we’re talking about are going to be hit first, worst and the most,” Sacoby Wilson, an associate professor with the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health at the UMD School of Public Health, told Politico.
Not only can heat worsen pre-existing conditions, but extreme heat increases behaviors that increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission, like in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, where its predominantly Latinx residents would gather multiple generations into the one room with air conditioning. Those in rural areas, especially farmworkers, also suffer in the vicious cycle of extreme heat and COVID-19 the cool areas that are available often become places where workers gather in close proximity.
“When we are in a pandemic like Covid, it basically means your frontline people, who are first to get sick, first to go to the hospital, folks who are required or essential workers because they are nurses, they are janitors, they are food service workers, they’re at risk whether they leave the house or not,” McTeer Toney said. “You’ve got coronavirus, you’ve got pollution and you’ve got extreme heat or extreme weather. It’s just a recipe for disaster.” (Politico; Climate Signals Background: Extreme heat and heatwaves)