In the coronavirus pandemic, it is not only geographic areas that are under quarantine, but also information, if that information casts serious doubt on our Ruling Class dogma of Race Denialism. That truth-quarantine is beginning to breakdown, however, under pressure from more and more observations pushing in the same direction: that there are race and ethnic differences in susceptibility to Covid-19—and that, properly understood, they point to a calmer, more humane and more efficient policy response.
The Kung Flu is particularly acute in New York City. Dr Michael Augenbraun, director of the infectious diseases division at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in central Brooklyn, was recently quoted on the leftist website ProPublica as saying
There are many things that may correlate with the spread of infectious diseases. Race might be one, poverty might be another. [Emphasis added].
Of course Dr. Augenbraun is confirming what I have long argued, most recently here: that race and ethnicity may well be factors in susceptibility to Covid-19.
Five previous articles:
But New York City, unlike other large cities such as Los Angeles and Newark, is only making county-level infection data available, which makes the identification of impacted localities impossible. The motive for this is nakedly political. ProPublica continues:
But some of those same factors, particularly ethnicity and race, may account for the city’s reluctance to make public more localized data that could point to clusters in particular neighborhoods, among certain communities. Around the country, there have been disturbing reports of bias attacks against Asian Americans by assailants blaming Chinese communities for the spread of the virus. [Link in original]
In other words, information that another doctor quoted by ProPublica says would “allow everyone to target their efforts much more effectively” must be suppressed because Mayor Bill De Blasio thinks “racism” is a greater threat than the disease.
How much does New York City differ from Turkmenistan, whose dictator has banned all public discussion of the disease?
Buried in the ProPublica article is probably the real reason De Blasio is scared of telling the truth:
Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology at CUNY School of Public Health, said he believed the city might be reluctant to release more data because of concern about stigma. “There has been a documented outbreak in Hasidic communities in New York state; my guess is that if they released the data it might highlight something more that could create tension where people could be discriminated against,” he said. There was reportedly an early spike of positive cases in two Brooklyn neighborhoods with large Hasidic communities, Williamsburg and Borough Park.
[Your Neighborhood Might Be a Coronavirus Hot Spot, but New York City Refuses to Release the Data, by Justin Elliott, Annie Waldman, Joshua Kaplan and Sean Campbell, ProPublica, March 25, 2020. Emphasis added, link in original].
I have already shown that certain ethnic groups—such as the Chinese, Persians and Italians—were, seemingly, far more susceptible than poverty would predict to the Spanish Flu of 1918 and, likewise, appear to be acutely susceptible to Covid-19. Could this be true of Jewish people as well?
Certainly, the Israelis (who are acutely aware of genetics) have reacted extraordinarily strongly to the possible spread of the virus into their territory. In an earlier article, I pointed out that only 30% of Israelis (and thus possibly Jews) carry Hp-1, the form of haptoglobin that facilitates the beneficial effects of vitamin C, and wondered if that was why they were quarantining all new arrivals despite that fact that at that point (March 9) they had no Covid-19 deaths at all. Subsequently, on March 25, Israel went to a full lock-down and further tightening is threatened, although there are still only 12 deaths [Coronavirus: Netanyahu to further tighten movement restrictions in Israel, By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman, The Jerusalem Post, March 27, 2020].
A recent opinion piece in Israeli newspaper Haaretz has referred to Covid-19 as the worst crisis in the country’s history, while its Orthodox health minister has called for God to intervene to ensure that his people can celebrate Passover properly [Israeli Health Minister's Cure for COVID-19? The Messiah, by Netta Ahituv, Haaretz, March 26, 2020].
Similarly, the Jewish Diaspora seems to be acutely distressed about their possible susceptibility to Covid-19. Because race-denying health authorities refuse to release the racial and ethnic data they certainly possess, it is hard to say how justified this fear is, although there are some disturbing signs: Jews make up 5% of coronavirus deaths in the UK. They are just 0.3% of the population, by Cnaan Lipshiz, jta.org, March 25, 2020; Why are ten times as many Jews Covid-19 victims? By Mark Duell, Mail Online, March 27, 2020]. (This may be partly because British Jews are heavily concentrated in London, which is relatively hard hit.)
Anecdotal evidence, however, is incessantly reported in the Jewish press, for example Grand rabbi of Satmar Hasidic dynasty tests positive for coronavirus [by Aidan Pink, Forward, March 22, 2020].
…[Grand Satmar Rabbi Aharon] Teitelbaum had been reluctant to comply with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s social-distancing recommendations, including school closures. “They don’t understand what a Jewish family is,” Teitelbaum said in a recorded speech decrying the fact that large numbers of children would be stuck at home if schools were closed. “It’s crowded at home, there’s barely any room, beds are placed wherever there’s room, there’s no gentile entertainment [I. E. no TVs] and if the kids are sent home there’s no room at home so they’ll wander around in the streets and people will gather together anyway, so nothing would be accomplished anyway.”
…A local doctor, Vladimir Zelenko, published a video on Thursday that was widely shared in the Orthodox world, claiming that nine of the 14 COVID-19 tests he had administered in Kiryas Joel had come back positive. He predicted, without explanation, that this would mean that 90% of the town would eventually contract the disease. [More]
The vulnerability of Orthodox communities is a notable theme:
The center of Orthodox Jewish life on Long Island, N.Y., — the Five Towns suburbs — now have 193 reported coronavirus cases, highlighting the growing spread of the virus outside the New York…The Five Towns — which include Woodmere, Inwood, Hewlett, Lawrence and Cedarhurst, just across the border from the New York City borough of Queens — are more than half Jewish.
[Coronavirus cases jump in Jewish corner of Long Island, by Ari Feldman, Forward, March 25 2020].
Some Orthodox Jews argue they are susceptible to the disease for cultural reasons [The real reasons coronavirus is spreading in my Hasidic community, by Meyer Labin]. Indeed, some secular Jews say the same thing about themselves [Why American Jews are at greater risk for coronavirus, by Samuel J. Abrams, Forward, March 20, 2020].
One Israeli journalist helpfully suggests that American Jews should alleviate their sense of panic by emigrating to Israel [Jewish and Panicked by Coronavirus? Come With Your Guilty Conscience to Israel, by Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz, March 13, 2020].
Frankly, I’m not sure that panic is justified. In my work on the Spanish Influenza Pandemic, I can find no evidence in the historical literature that Jews were especially susceptible to flu (unlike Italians). In fact, some studies have shown that Jews are more resistant to tuberculosis than white gentiles, which, in that flu and TB work in similar ways, might actually cause Jews to be more resistant to flu, not less [The Ongoing Columbian Exchange, by Christopher Cumo, 2015, p.317].
Maybe Jews just worry more. Ashkenazi Jews are 40% more likely than ethnic Europeans to carry genes associated with schizophrenia and with bipolar disorder [Genome-wide association study of schizophrenia in Ashkenazi Jews, by F. Goes et al., American Journal of Medical Genetics, 2015]. Schizophrenia makes you paranoid about people and causes you see evidence agency and conspiracies everywhere. Bipolar disorder causes you to perceive the world in a very negative way and fixate on the worst possible outcome.
In addition, Ashkenazi males, in particular, score higher on Neuroticism that do ethnically European males [This paranoid stereotype is no joke, by J. Lipman, Jewish Chronicle, April 14, 2016]. Neuroticism means that you feel worry and anxiety, and also correlates with having a strong disgust-response, such as to the possibility of disease [Disgust Sensitivity as a Function of the Big Five and Gender, by Barry Druschel & Martin Sherman, Personality and Individual Differences, 1999]. Due to their small gene pool, Jewish populations are plagued by a variety of rare genetic disorders that might be classified as the kind of “underlying health conditions” making them more susceptible to any pandemic. So people who are prone to worry might convince themselves—not necessarily correctly—that they have a great deal to worry about.
I conclude, again, by drawing my now-traditional moral:
Lance Welton [email him] is the pen name of a freelance journalist living in New York.