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‘Virus bias’ points to further ethinc-based discrimination


A USC Dornsife’s Understanding Coronavirus in America Study was released this week, concluding that discrimination against people thought to have COVID-19—even if they weren’t infected—peaked in April and has since declined, but it persists, particularly against Asian-Americans.

“Discrimination by someone who perceives you to be infected with coronavirus is an experience nearly a quarter of all U.S. residents have in common — particularly racial minorities, according to a USC statement.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, one in three Black, Asian and Latino people have experienced at least one incident of COVID-related discrimination, compared to one in five White people,’’ according to the Understanding Coronavirus in America tracking survey conducted by the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research.

The study also determined that the overall percentage of people who experienced a recent incident of COVID-related discrimination peaked in April at 11 percent and steadily declined to 7 percent at the beginning of June, though racial disparities persist.

In early June, Asian-Americans were more than 2.5 times as likely as whites (13 percent vs. 5 percent) to experience a recent incident of COVID-related discrimination, according to the statement. Blacks and Latinos were nearly twice as likely.

The prevalence of discrimination also varies by age. Adults between the ages of 18 and 34 were three times as likely as seniors 65 and older to report a recent incident of coronavirus-related discrimination.

“The early spike in the percentage of people who experienced COVID-related discrimination was attributable, in part, to discriminatory reactions to the growing number of people wearing masks or face coverings at the early stage of the pandemic,’’ said Ying Liu, a research scientist with CESR.

“Asian-Americans were the first racial/ethnic group to experience substantial discrimination, followed by African-Americans and Latinos. We also found that in some earlier weeks of the pandemic, people who were heavy users of social media were more likely to report an experience of discrimination.’’

The findings proved unsurprising to Nayan Shah, professor of American studies and ethnicity and history at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“Blaming Asian immigrants and Asian-Americans for outbreaks of disease has a long history in California and in the United States,’’ said Shah, author of “Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown.’’

“Every time politicians and people lash out with taunts, vitriol and violence, public health and democracy suffer,” Shah said. “The U.S. is racing to have the highest case numbers and deaths in this phase of the pandemic, because basic precautions of wearing masks, physical distancing, and respecting each other in public is being willfully ignored.’’