‘Race influenced who died of COVID-19’

December 1, 2020

Bonnie Castillo, RN, is the executive director of National Nurses United (NNU) and of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organising Committee (CNA/NNOC). She was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world for 2020.

Bonnie Castillo
Bonnie Castillo – more than 2100 health workers lost to COVID-19 in the United States.

Bonnie’s address was a chilling reminder of the dire circumstances that health-care workers in the United States (US) have had to endure under the Trump administration. She explained how this administration had refused for months to enact the Defence Production Act, which would prioritise the production and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health-care workers. She told horror stories of nurses only having one N-95 mask for up to a month and having to store this in between shifts in a paper bag. Because of this gross negligence, the US lost more 2100 nurses and health-care workers.

Bonnie emphasised that race heavily influenced who suffered and died with COVID-19 in the US. “With our profit-driven health system, health-care injustice and racial injustice have historically gone hand in hand,” said Bonnie. Indigenous people have been 3.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than white people, and in some areas black and Latinx (a gender-neutral term Bonnie used for people of Latin American descent) people have been three to four times more likely to die than white counterparts. COVID-19 also hit black and brown nurses especially hard.

She talked about an earlier report conducted by NNU that 58 per cent of the 213 nurses who had died at that point were nurses of colour, despite making up only 24 per cent of the workforce.

Bonnie says racism is a public health issue and it has taken the strength of unions, and the strength of international solidarity, to fight it. “It’s a great comfort… knowing that to be in a pandemic that has no borders, our collective power as union nurses has no borders.” I know we will continue to stand in solidarity with them.