Every 30 Seconds: COVID-19 Health Disparities At Heart Of 2020 Elections For Some Voters

By Michel Marizco
Published: Wednesday, June 3, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Wednesday, June 3, 2020 - 8:29am

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Adela Diaz
Ash Ponders/The World
Adela Diaz, who will be a first-time voter in 2020, at home in Phoenix, Arizona.

Adela Diaz returned to the University of Arizona in Tucson from spring break in early March to find that the world had shifted. 

By March 11, the University of Arizona  president delayed the start of classes because of the spread of the novel coronavirus. Then the university president said classes would start a week later online. That same day, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. 

Now, Diaz continues taking a full schedule of university courses from her family’s home in Phoenix. Her mother had turned her old bedroom into a home office — but since Diaz is home, they share. 

Diaz says the coronavirus pandemic has brought a new urgency to her major: public health. But the issues the pandemic has raised have been on Diaz’s radar since high school. Long before the pandemic, she said, she was aware some people don’t have easy access to health care. 

“I care more about, well, how is it disproportionately affecting people of low economic status or people of color,” she said. 

It’s on her mind as the November U.S. presidential election nears.

The pandemic has exposed existing disparities in health care access and outcomes. A recent CDC survey found that blacks and Latinos are disproportionately represented among hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

“I was so upset,” she said. “Audibly, I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ because that’s awful. I hate to hear that.”

“I care more about, well, how is it disproportionately affecting people of low economic status or people of color."
— Adela Diaz, UA student

A class Diaz took last year on public health was an eye-opener. The pandemic has convinced her that what her then-professor David Garcia said was true.

"Although there have always been these health disparities that exist among these groups, I think we’re seeing more of a highlight on it, particularly with COVID-19,” Garcia told The World.

In Arizona, known COVID-19 cases topped 20,000 by late May, and the state is approaching 1,000 deaths. 

Arizona is also a battleground state for the November election. Once predominantly Republican, one of its two senators is now a Democrat.

In the 2018 midterm election, the Democratic Party regained a House seat it lost to the GOP in 2014. President Donald Trump won Arizona in 2016 by just 3.5%. By comparison, in 2012, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney beat former President Barack Obama in Arizona by more than 9 percentage points.

Along with COVID-19 also came a shift in the political landscape. First, Diaz’s favorite Democratic candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who made universal health care central to her campaign, dropped out in early March.

“It was upsetting, though, to see — you know, she was the last person who wasn’t an old white man so when she was gone, that narrowed the choices a lot,” she said.

Her friends and social circle backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who Diaz was also prepared to support. 

“Then he dropped out, too,” she said. “Which I knew [would happen]. My parents even told me, ‘You know, he’s probably not going to get the nomination.’ They both voted for Biden.”

Donald Trump Joe Biden
Shealah Craighead/White House, U.S. Department of State
Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Asked why former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee was her choice, Debbie Diaz laughed. 

“Because I’m old,” Debbie Diaz said. “I just kind of think Bernie was a little too far out there to win against President Trump. I really do."

But Adela Diaz is not entirely impressed with Biden. 

“I mean, he was the vice president. He's just — I feel he’s a little less inspiring to me than Bernie was,” she said. “I’m still going to vote for Biden in the general election.”

So far, Biden hasn’t supported a universal health care plan — and that’s an issue Adela Diaz is watching for.

“It doesn’t always matter to do the people-pleasing thing when people are dying because of what you’re not giving them,“ she said.

This story is part of "Every 30 Seconds," a collaborative public media reporting project tracing the young Latino electorate leading up to the 2020 presidential election and beyond. 

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