Methods: We compared the COVID-19 time-varying R t curves of relatively disparate polities in terms of social equity (South Korea vs. Louisiana). Next, we considered a range of reproductive ratios to back-calculate the transmission rates b i ®j for 4 cells of the simplified next-generation matrix (from which R 0 is calculated for structured models) for the outbreak in Louisiana. Lastly, we considered the potential structural effects monetary payments as reparations for Black American descendants of persons enslaved in the U.S. would have had on pre-intervention b i ®j and consequently R 0.
Results: Once their respective epidemics begin to propagate, Louisiana displays R t values with an absolute difference of 1.3 to 2.5 compared to South Korea. It also takes Louisiana more than twice as long to bring R t below 1. Reasoning through the consequences of increased equity via matrix transmission models, we demonstrate how the benefits of a successful reparations program (reflected in the ratio b b ®b / b w ®w ) could reduce R 0 by 31 to 68%.
According to the researchers, reparations would have reduced transmission because the payouts would have resulted in black Americans being able to escape overcrowded housing situations, avoid participation in front-line work, and obtain PPE like masks and hand sanitizer.
According to the Harvard Crimson, the study is part of a larger report by the Lancet Commission on Reparations and Redistributive Justice. The study’s corresponding author, HMS professor Eugene T. Richardson, chairs the commission.
“Almost all of the COVID models you’ll look at have to do with wearing masks, social distancing, closing down businesses — that kind of thing. Yet, there are these huge health disparities — notably between people of color and white people, especially in the U.S. — and you rarely see racial justice interventions being incorporated into these models,” Richardson said.
Another one of the study’s authors, HMS assistant professor Michelle E. Morse, said, “I think the fact that the U.S. has skirted its responsibility and avoided reach for reconciliation in a meaningful way for hundreds of years is why we keep seeing the same pattern of racial injustice play out over and over and over again in this country.”
She even said that reparations “could have been as effective as a vaccine.”