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Opinion: Virus becomes a major force for inequality

Across America, protests and rallies crying “Black Lives Matter” have featured thousands of demonstrators wearing no masks, taking no care to social distance and not bothering to sanitize their hands very often.

They’re ostensibly pushing for social justice and racial and economic equality, calling for fair treatment and less violence from police and other authorities and in effect demanding more equity in hiring and education.

But their frequent disregard for the contagion of the ongoing coronavirus plague often accomplishes the opposite: They and others who disregard simple but sometimes inconvenient precautions are very ironically and tragically helping push the greatest force for inequality since Jim Crow.

That’s the virus, which afflicts low-income minority residents of California in far higher numbers than whites, who are often more affluent.

Latinos, for the strongest example, make up about 39 percent of California’s population, but account for 56 percent of all COVID-19 diagnoses and 45.7 percent of deaths from the virus. African Americans are 6.5 percent of the populace and about the same percentage of COVID-19 cases, but 8.5 percent of deaths from the virus. Geographic data indicates the virus also strikes disproportionately in lower-income locales, especially those heavily populated by farmworkers.

So the coronavirus plainly hits minorities with low incomes harder than whites, especially those in the most affluent areas. Which means that the more protesters, partiers, beachgoers and others disregard tactics known to stem viral contagion, the more they promote racial inequality.

But the inequities encouraged by the pandemic go much deeper than caseload and death statistics, revealing as those can be.

It turns out COVID-19’s most lasting effect may be on education, where impacts may affect student performance and achievement for more than a decade. It’s a new form of segregation, based more on economic class than on race – but class lines often coincide with racial ones.

The reasons for this stem from the vitally necessary decision to keep most public schools closed this fall, the bulk of what used to be classroom teaching now done electronically via services like Zoom and Google Classroom.

On the surface, this seems to treat rich and poor alike, every public school student seemingly subject to the same pluses and minuses from remote learning. Except that the wealthy can do something about it when their children’s wifi fails, while the poor often cannot. The wealthy are often able to stay home with their children during the pandemic, while a far higher proportion of the poor work in menial jobs now considered essential, from farmworkers to street cleaners.

So the likelihood of children having adult supervision while they learn via screens is far less among low income minorities than among whites. Whether or not distance learning can be effective, there is no doubt that without adult supervision, children are more likely to wander away from screens or not to sign on at all. Even while they’re online, their attention wanders more if they are not supervised.

The result inevitably will be that the rich get richer educations while the poor get poorer. Depending on how long this goes on, its effects could be lifelong.

Other educational advantages are also manifesting from affluence during the pandemic. Besides the large percentage of the wealthy who opt out of public school problems with online schooling by sending their kids to private schools, large numbers of public school parents have already begun setting up “pods” of up to 10 children, with several families combining to hire tutors at $40 per hour or more.

Newspapers around the state report tutors and former schoolteachers who post notices of their availability are getting multiple calls from groups of parents seeking stable education for their children. Parents also are using social media to find like-minded others, the result being that those who can afford to kick in for better education are buying extra opportunities for their kids.

That situation led former San Francisco Mayor and ex-state Assembly Speaker Willie Brown to observe the other day that the virus is leading to new forms of segregated education.

He’s right, and so long as the virus endures, there’s little low-income parents can do about it.

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Email Thomas Elias at His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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