Fall 2020 letter from the editors

Fabio Rojas and Rashawn Ray, Editors of Contexts Magazine. (Photo by Alisha Kirchoff)

On the day of the 2020 presidential election in the United States, the country had more than 1,000,000 COVID-19 diagnoses. As numbers continue to rise, the U.S. is approaching 10 million COVID-19 diagnoses and is well on its way to an unfathomable 250,000 deaths. These numbers are substantially more than any other country and represent nearly 20 percent of the virus’s total fatalities across the globe.

Worldwide, nearly 50 million people have contracted COVID-19. However, some countries and territories have managed to contain the virus better than others. Taiwan has few cases, despite its proximity to Wuhan, China. However, the coronavirus outbreak has exposed what the Global Health Security Index found—the world was not prepared for an outbreak. Scores were abysmal for the 195 countries in the report. Though the United States received the highest overall score (83.5), some indicators were concerning. For example, the United States scored only 66.7 on emergency response operations (still ranking second among all countries). Health capacity was scored 60, while healthcare access was scored 25 on a 100-point scale (ranked 175 among countries).

These outcomes speak to the inequalities embedded within the United States. While COVID-19 is an equal opportunity virus, our society is far from equitable. Blacks, Latinos, and Indigenous groups are significantly more likely to contract and die from COVID-19. In fact, if Blacks had the same mortality rate from coronavirus as Whites, nearly 25,000 Black people would still be alive. Racial discrimination is one of the main culprits. Early during the pandemic, a study documented that Blacks were six times more likely than Whites to be turned away from COVID-19 testing and treatment. Blacks are also more likely to be frontline workers and live in densely populated areas.

In addition to health, COVID-19 has substantially altered the economy, education, and politics. At the start of the pandemic, Contexts Magazine: Sociology for the Public issued a call for papers and gave authors five days to submit. We received nearly 200 submissions with authors from or topics on the following countries: Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Congo, Cuba, Denmark, Ecuador, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Kingdom, Venezuela, and United States.

With the number of submissions received, the editorial team worked diligently to ensure we provided each submission the same attention and evaluation. As we have through our editorship, we aimed to combine pieces by theme. We liked pieces that were complementary. We also appreciated submissions that had local insights, data, and policy relevance. Accordingly, we published a series of these articles on the Contexts website. This special issue extends the online discussion and focuses on topics of critical importance at this moment in time—country-specific responses to COVID-19, lessons learned from previous virus outbreaks, frontline worker experiences and healthcare infrastructure, education, social inequality, vaccines, and mental health and coping.

In responding to the call for papers, a scholar on the Contexts website stated, “Sociology has the most sophisticated theoretical insights, conceptual tools, and policy ideas. It is high time for sociologists to gather and explain the experiences of people around the world affected by this pandemic.” Contexts Magazine provides sociologists and other social scientists, academics, and practitioners the ability to contribute in real-time when it matters instead of years later when the tide to directly impact people’s attitudes and behaviors in the moment has subsided. As another Contexts contributor noted, “‘If not us, who? If not now, when?’ We should be leading the discussion that makes this as much about the “social” as it is the biological and we should be doing it now.” We agree, and we are doing it.

– Rashawn Ray and Fabio Rojas –