Law, Structural Racism, and the COVID-19 Pandemic

20 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2020 Last revised: 14 Jan 2021

See all articles by Ruqaiijah Yearby

Ruqaiijah Yearby

Saint Louis University - School of Law

Seema Mohapatra

SMU Dedman School of Law

Date Written: May 28, 2020


Racial and ethnic minorities have always been the most impacted by pandemics because of: disparities in exposure to the virus; disparities in susceptibility to contracting the virus; and disparities in treatment. This article explains how structural racism, the ways in which laws are used to advantage the majority and disadvantage racial and ethnic minorities, has caused these disparities. Specifically, this article focuses on how employment, housing, health care, and COVID-19 relief laws have been manipulated to disadvantage racial and ethnic minorities, making minorities more susceptible to COVID-19 infection and death. This article uses Blumenshine’s 2008 framework to outline how structural racism causes racial and ethnic minorities’ disparities in exposure to viruses, in susceptibility to contracting viruses, in treatment of viruses, and in infection and death rates. This article discusses how historical and current practices of structural racism in existing employment, housing, and health care laws and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) cause disparities in COVID-19 infections and deaths. This article suggests legal solutions to address structural racism as well as public health solutions to help mitigate the racialized effects of the disease.

Keywords: COVID-19, structural racism, essential workers, public health law, CARES Act

JEL Classification: K30, K31, K32, K39, K42, I14, I18, I31

Suggested Citation

Yearby, Ruqaiijah and Mohapatra, Seema, Law, Structural Racism, and the COVID-19 Pandemic (May 28, 2020). 7 Oxford Journal of Law and the Biosciences (January - June, 2020), Saint Louis U. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2020-08, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Research Paper No. 2020-8, Available at SSRN:

Ruqaiijah Yearby (Contact Author)

Saint Louis University - School of Law ( email )

100 N. Tucker Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63101
United States
314.977.3326 (Phone)

Seema Mohapatra

SMU Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States

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