Social Medicine Perspectives on Covid19

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This page is a compilation of writings and other resources by BCSM affiliates to provide social medicine perspectives on Covid19. For current medical and public health information, please consult the CDC.

COVID-19 and the Political Geography of Racialisation

ISSI's Berkeley Center for Social Medicine Visiting Scholar, Ryan Whitacre, co-authored this article with a number of ISSI's Berkeley Center for Social Medicine faculty and student affiliates. The authors analyze how the political geography of racialisation potentiated the COVID-19 crisis and exacerbated the social and economic toll of the pandemic for non-white communities.

Medical Anthropology in the Time of COVID-19

Vincanne Adams, faculty affiliate of ISSI's Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, and co-author Alex Nading describe the many ways in which medical anthropology has been capturing the events of the pandemic and offering novel insights and reflections on COVID-19's implications and impacts. The essay introduces a special issue of Medical Anthropology Quarterly.

Equity-based Vaccine Distribution

Denise Herd, faculty affiliate of ISSI's Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, explains the barriers that communities of color face while getting vaccinated and how those barriers are shaped by systemic racism.

Iatrogenesis and Harm in Covid-19

ISSI's Berkeley Center for Social Medicine co-chair Seth Holmes is lead author on this essay in the British Medical Journal. Through the lens of the current COVID-19 crisis, the authors explain the harmful effects that occur when medical care ignores systematically unequal social forces.

COVID-19 Leaves Unhoused Oaklanders with Fewer Winter Refuges 

Coco Auerswald, a Berkeley Center for Social Medicine faculty affiliate, is quoted in this new article in Oaklandside detailing how critical services providing the unhoused with refuge from the cold have been severely limited due to COVID-19 safety concerns. Auerswald states that cities and counties don’t have to sacrifice winter shelter altogether just because they can’t safely establish communal sites. "'Putting people in danger, or leaving them in danger—those can’t be our only options,” Auerswald said. “I think we need to have more temporary housing that has a door and a bathroom. And to figure out ways to use city land for temporary shelters that are appropriate for human beings.'"

COVID-19 and ICE Raids

In a new Public Health Post article, Berkeley Center for Social Medicine affiliates Seth Holmes and Miriam Magaña López explore the dangers in how ICE has continued to raid, detain, and deport immigrants nationwide amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. "Trust is broken when governments order everyone to avoid non-essential activities while simultaneously continuing to raid immigrant and communities of color, separate families, and detain and deport individuals." Raids have forced groups of people into conditions that risk their safety and threaten to spread the virus. We must follow public health recommendations by stopping ICE raids, detentions, and deportations.

Redefining Health Policy in 2020 and Beyond

On October 13, the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine sponsored an event featuring Jamila K. Taylor, Janene Yazzie, Mari Lopez. "Redefining Health Policy in 2020 and Beyond: Racism, Social Movements, and Well-Being" is now available for viewing here: 



Antiracism in Medicine

Berkeley Center of Social Medicine faculty affiliate Kelly Knight is a co-author of "Beyond a Moment - Reckoning with Our History and Embracing Antiracism in Medicine," published in The New England Journal of Medicine. "More broadly, we [the authors] believe a new understanding and embrace of diversity are needed...diversity that goes beyond representation to empowerment..." in medicine and public health in order to prevent past consequences of ignorance.

Racial Disparities, Economic Hardships, and COVID-19: A Radio Story

Berkeley Center of Social Medicine faculty affiliate, Denise Herd, helps to explain the rapid increase of COVID-19 case numbers seen in the Latinx and African American communities. Herd notes, "The issue is there have been just huge gaps in health that have disproportionately affected ethnic minorities, so the fact that COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting people of color and disadvantaged populations, it’s not news to folks that have been looking at these disparities for many years."

I Can't Breathe

In the Sierra article, "I Can't Breathe," Berkeley Center of Social Medicine faculty affiliate Rachel Morello-Frosch provides insight on the similarities between air pollution and police violence through systemic racism. 

How the History of Polio Can Help Find a Coronavirus Vaccine

In "Remembering the history of polio can help in finding a coronavirus vaccine," Elena Conis details how the quick development of the polio vaccine should serve as a warning and a lesson to the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. Conis, Berkeley Center of Social Medicine faculty affiliate, asserts, "If one [coronavirus vaccine] does prove safe and effective, we will face the same challenges we faced then — of making enough to protect the population, without causing harm, and distributing it without exacerbating existing inequities in our society."

Mahasin Mujahid on the Struggle for Testing

Berkeley Center of Social Medicine faculty Mahasin Mujahid, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, was quoted in "Latino, Black neighborhoods struggle with test disparities," an AP article discussing the difficulty of getting a COVID-19 test in low-income communities of color. “It’s the perfect storm as this hits unlevel playing fields all across the U.S.,” she observes. 

Wednesday-Friday, July 22-24: Encuentro Internacional COVID-19: Salud colectiva y pandemia

Un esfuerzo conjunto de organizaciones sociales y universidades para generar un espacio de pensamiento colectivo que formule un programa de acción en red. Un proyecto transdisciplinario e intercultural que surge de la respuesta conjunta y creativa a las siguientes preguntas:

  • ¿Cómo explica el carácter y magnitud de la pandemia y su inequitativa distribución territorial, clasista, étnica y por género?
  • ¿Cómo describe las políticas, estrategias y acciones concretas del Estado -nacional y seccional-, del sector privado y de los organismos de cooperación técnica internacional frente a la pandemia y sus impactos epidemiológicos, sociales y laborales en sus países?
  • ¿Cuál es la visión estratégica, organizativa y de acción que su organización/universidad propone frente a la crisis y la lucha por una salida justa y equitativa?

Para descargar el programa de esta actividad, presione aquí.

The conference will be live-streamed here.

Inscripción Gratuita/Free Registration 

For more information contact Doris Guilcamaigua,

Sponsored by: Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar, Ecuador

Co-sponsored by Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

Retooling Anthropology to Face COVID-19: New Article by Charles Briggs

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine co-chair Charles L. Briggs has a new article in the journal Medical Anthropology. In his essay, “Beyond the Linguistic/Medical Anthropology Divide: Retooling Anthropology to Face COVID-19,” he argues that "the chasm that generally separates medical and linguistic anthropology ... constitutes one of the most acute infrastructural shortcomings that limits the value of anthropology for responding not just to COVID-19 or health 'crises' in general but investigating and analyzing complex contemporary naturalcultural worlds."

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine faculty affiliate Coco Auerswald is the lead author of a report entitled On the COVID-19 Front Line and Hurting, which presents data on the needs of providers for youth experiencing homelessness. The report also discusses the needs of the youth and provides recommendations to better serve youth and support providers

From the cholera epidemics to COVID, racialization of disease is an old trend

In his recent piece on the UC Press blog, Berkeley Center for Social Medicine co-chair Charles Briggs draws on his 2004 book Stories in the Time of Cholera, "I am struck by parallels to the current pandemic—particularly policies leading to increased rates of African American, Native American, and Latinx hospitalization and death. ... COVID-19 is not 'unprecedented' as we are constantly told:  underlying structural factors and policy decisions predictably enable the virus to strike racialized minorities the hardest."

The Structural Competency Working Group, a project of Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, issued a position statement on racism, police violence, and health equity. The statement calls for the end of police brutality and health inequity and provides specific actions divided into intrapersonal/interpersonal, institutional/community, and policy/research categories.

Farmworker Health and Covid-19

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine co-chair Seth Holmes was interviewed by a few news stations regarding his work on farmworker health and the Covid-19 pandemic:

CBS News (Miami):  "Facing South Florida: Florida Farmworkers"; NBC News (Fort Myers and Naples): "Immokalee Residents Suffer from Lack of Coronavirus Testing, Poor Living Conditions"; and FOX News (Fort Myers and Naples): "Immokalee Quickly Becoming the Epicenter of COVID-19 Cases in Southwest Florida"

Structural Racism and COVID19: The Political Divide, Re-Opening the Society and Health Impacts on People of Color

Live webcast: Friday, June 26 12–1 P.M.

This event will be broadcast live on this page. You can also watch this event live on the UC Berkeley Facebook page.

Recent California data show that citizen perspectives on rolling back shelter in place and other public health provisions related to COVID19 are highly politicized and racialized. This Conversation features experts john powell, Director of the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, Cristina Mora, Co-Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies and faculty affiliate of Center for Research on Social Change, and Mahasin Mujahid, Epidemiologist School of Public Health, and faculty affiliate of Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, who will explore the impact of a polarized society on COVID19, especially for vulnerable populations. Panelists will also discuss public health and social equity measures needed to safely re-open the society to address COVID19 as well as the underlying pandemic of structural racism. In addition, they will examine bridging policies that can help overcome societal divisions and promote health justice for all.

Among the reasons COVID-19 is worse for black communities: Police violence

​Berkeley Center for Social Medicine faculty affiliate Denise Herd is quoted in this Berkeley News article about her work on police violence, a largely unexamined factor in high rates of Covid-19 among African Americans. Herd's forthcoming article in Boston University Law Review discusses the trauma and stress caused by police violence in African American communities and the physical toll of that violence.


How Smart City Planning Could Slow Future Pandemics

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine affiliate Jason Corburn was quoted in a recent Wired article about how smart urban planning could slow future pandemics. Corburn recommends "placing cities’ highest budget, best designed, most beautiful new projects in the poorest, most neglected areas."

Is America Able to Apply Lessons Learned From the Polio Epidemic in the Fight Against Covid-19?

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine faculty affiliate Elena Conis recently co-authored a New York Times op-ed about what to expect when a Coronavirus vaccine finally arrives, based on lessons learned from the history of the polio vaccine.

Professor Conis was also quoted in this Georgia Public Broadcasting article about Georgia polio survivors who fear that easing social distancing guidelines could have severe consequences for the American public.

Urban Slums are Uniquely Vulnerable to COVID-19. Here’s How to Help.

New research co-authored by Berkeley Center for Social Medicine faculty affiliate Jason Corburn on how to help urban slums that are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19 was featured in Berkeley News.

 Coronavirus Appears Twice as Deadly for Blacks as Whites in California

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine affiliate Denise Herd was quoted in a number of articles exploring why COVID-19 appears twice as deadly for Blacks as for whites, including in the San Francisco Chronicle and in the Patch.

As Societies Re-Open in this Pandemic, We Need Social Solidarity to Survive the Summer

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine co-chair Seth Holmes argues in this recent BMJ op-ed that while we must take “physical distancing” very seriously, we need the opposite of “social distancing” to survive this pandemic: "As we approach another month of the covid-19 pandemic, we need social solidarity to protect our mental health... In this time of isolation, we need the healing properties of social cohesion—from a distance."

Public Health Experts Investigate Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on Communities of Color

In a recent “Berkeley Conversation,” public health scholars offered a critical look at the disparate impacts of the coronavirus on communities of color to explain why Black and Brown people were dying at far higher rates compared to the general population, while also countering narratives that these deaths were biologically-based, or that individual behavior is to blame. The panelists examined the larger structures, including the legacies of slavery, the role of residential segregation, and even the public health field, as causes or contributors of the disparate impacts experienced by those populations. The panel included several faculty affiliates of the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine: Denise HerdAmani AllenJason Corburn, and Mahasin Mujahid. For a write-up and video of the panel discussion visit this page.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020  | 8:00 - 9:30 a.m. PST

Structural Competency Innovations & Opportunities in the Era of Covid-19

Part 3 : Global Responses took place on May 6 and can be viewed here.


Co-sponsored by Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

BCSM Affiliate Amani Allen Interviewed on CNN about Racial Disparity

Amani M. Allen, Associate Professor of Community Health Sciences and Epidemiology and Berkeley Center for Social Medicine affiliate, was interviewed on CNN on April 11, discussing the racial disparities in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. "We have seen this pattern of racial health disparities for quite a long time, and we see it across numerous health outcomes.”

What History’s Economy-Disrupting Outbreaks Can Teach Us About Coronavirus Panic

In her Time Magazine article, Elena Conis examines past disease outbreaks like the cholera epidemic of 1832, the bubonic plague of 1900 and, one of the deadliest pandemics, the flu of 1918. She concludes: 

“Each epidemic takes place in its own context. The state of trade in New York in 1832—as well as the city’s infrastructure, wealth, poverty, graft and relationship to the rest of the world—played a role in cholera’s spread. The economy recovered then, and has many times since. At the same time, a number of historians credit medieval plague with a role in the collapse of feudalism and the rise of capitalism, so it is hard to generalize about the relationship between epidemics and economies. The national and global financial systems will still exist on the other side of a disease. But no amount of looking backward can tell us what they will look like then—or what COVID-19 might be capable of changing.”

Professor Conis, a faculty affiliate of Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, was also quoted in the National Post and San Francisco Chronicle.

Triage and Health Resource Allocation & Ethics

Barbara Koenig and her team at UCSF Bioethics Program curated a collection of triage policies from around the US and the world. The collection also includes ethics literature related to pandemics and resource allocation. Professor Koenig is an affiliate of Berkeley Center for Social Medicine.

Raids on Immigrant Communities During the Pandemic Threaten the Country’s Public Health  

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine (BCSM) Research and Policy Analyst Miriam Magaña Lopez and BCSM co-chair Seth Holmeseditorial in the American Journal of Public Health discusses how ICE raids violate public health recommendations, sow distrust in public health institutions, and disobey shelter in place orders.

Structural Competency Innovations & Opportunities in the Era of Covid-19

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine is co-sponsoring this series of webinars.

Part 2 : Medically Marginalized Populations took place on April 22 and can be viewed here.


Co-sponsored by Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

For the good of us all: Addressing the needs of our unhoused neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic

This report summarizes the relevant public health knowledge about and policy responses to COVID-19 and homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area and in six other cities. The report, whose authors include Berkeley Center for Social Medicine faculty affiliate Coco Auerswald and ISSI graduate student in residence Chris Herring, concludes with recommendations regarding testing and housing to protect society’s most vulnerable people and the broader communities in which they live from preventable morbidity and mortality. Video of the virtual press conference is available for viewing here.

Pandemicity, COVID-19 and the limits of public health ‘science’

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine affiliated faculty Eugene T. Richardson writes in BMJ Global Health, "Mathematical models of infectious disease transmission ... serve not as forecasts, but rather as a means for setting epistemic confines to the understanding of why some groups live sicker lives than others—confines that sustain predatory accumulation rather than challenge it."

Disasters and capitalism…and COVID-19

In her March 26 Somatosphere article, Berkeley Center for Social Medicine affiliated faculty Vincanne Adams expands upon her recent participation in a radio talk show on the topic of disaster capitalism and the current COVID-19 pandemic, raising the following questions: "Is the COVID-19 pandemic a disaster? If it is, how does it compare to other disasters that anthropologists have written about? Might the lessons learned from other disasters, like the Hurricane Katrina recovery in New Orleans, be useful in understanding the current pandemic? Looking at COVID-19 through the lens of disaster capitalism, for instance, we could explore its roles in the causes, impacts and responses to COVID-19 in the US."


This essay in The Guardian by Vera Chang and Seth Holmes, Berkeley Center for Social Medicine co-chair, explains the risks that essential workers face with no relief measures in place for them: "While Americans have been instructed to maintain 6ft from others, food workers labor shoulder-to-shoulder in the country’s mega-processing plants. Farmworkers pack into buses to and from orange groves and other harvest sites. They share cramped rooms, even beds, with strangers, and lack ventilation or access to sanitation." 

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine is co-sponsoring this series of webinars:

Structural Competency Innovations & Opportunities in the Era of Covid-19

Part 1 : Basic Needs and First Response took place on April 15 and the video can be viewed here.

Co-sponsored by Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

Historical Perspectives on the Pandemic

In an article entitled “Generation C has Nowhere to Turn,” Amanda Mull, a staff writer for The Atlantic, interviewed Professor Elena Conis, a historian of medicine and public health and an affiliate of ISSI’s Berkeley Center for Social Medicine. “Once people are let out into the world to rejoin their lives, the pandemic will continue to harm them for years to come. ‘Epidemics are really bad for economies,' says Elena Conis, a historian of medicine and public health at UC Berkeley.... ‘We’re going to see a whole bunch of college graduates and people finishing graduate programs this summer who are going to really struggle to find work…. There are aspects of history that repeat themselves, but what’s more true is that every epidemic takes place in its own context. This is a unique viral agent and a unique social and cultural context, and economic context, too.'" Dr. Conis was also featured in an ABC7 news article entitled, "Coronavirus Pandemic: UC Berkeley historian draws similarities between COVID-19 and polio epidemic of the 1950s."

ICE Needs to Stand Down – For Everyone’s Good

ISSI's Berkeley Center for Social Medicine co-chair Seth Holmes co-authored this opinion piece in The Globe Post explaining that "when agents dressed in 'Police/ICE' jackets show up at apartment complexes... the highly visible presence of ICE greatly amplifies undocumented immigrants’ fear that seeking needed medical care – including testing for COVID-19 – will make them targets for arrest and deportation and jeopardize any future chance of getting a green card".

ICE agents are still performing raids – and using precious N95 masks to do so

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine (BCSM) co-chair Seth Holmes and BCSM affiliate Miriam Magaña Lopez call for an end to immigration raids in this op-ed in the March 31, 2020 edition of The Guardian. They state that "ICE raids conducted by the federal government are putting our country at risk, worsening a critical shortage of medical supplies and leading to overcrowding and movement that facilitate the spread of Covid-19. At this historic moment, we must set our priorities straight. If we want to survive, we must stop ICE raids, detention and deportation. We must provide protective equipment to frontline workers in our health system. Our lives and the future of our society depend on it."

patient on ventilator with health care workerIn a De-funded Health System, Doctors and Nurses Suffer Near-Impossible Conditions

Seth Holmes' March 29, 2020 article in Salon shares the experiences of many doctors and nurses trying to care for their patients despite critical shortages. Holmes and co-author Liza Buchbinder show that when our leaders de-fund the health system that protects us all, millions of doctors, nurses, patients, and families are put at risk. Holmes is Co-Chair of BCSM.


What the “Global North” needs to learn about COVID-19

In this blog post in British Medical Journal Global Health, BCSM faculty affiliate Sriram Shamasunder and co-authors discuss concrete steps that can be taken and the many lessons that U.S. health workers can learn from their international colleagues around the world.  

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