In the days since George Floyd’s murder, details released from pathologists have helped provide a fuller context for his death. Initially, a state-sponsored autopsy was inconclusive, attributing blame of Floyd’s death to underlying health issues, while an independent autopsy found otherwise. Now, Dr. Andrew M. Baker, Chief Medical Examiner of Hennepin County, has concluded his full autopsy of George Floyd providing another detail: Floyd tested positive for Covid-19.
The autopsy, which includes a list of injuries and a toxicology report, also showed that Floyd had tested positive for Covid-19 in April and, at the time of death, showed “asymptomatic but persistent positivity from previous infection.” The autopsy does not find that Floyd’s Covid-19 diagnosis played a role in his death but states Floyd’s heart, which allegedly showed signs of disease, stopped during his encounter with officer Chauvin. These findings are in contrast with an independent autopsy performed by Dr. Michael Baden at the request of the Floyd family, which show the cause of death as asphyxiation. Both reports rule Floyd’s death a homicide.
Since Floyd’s death triggered a series of uprisings across the country, reports of Covid-19 have taken a back seat to news on police violence and debates on the merits of looting. Yet the pandemic that has killed over 100,000 people in the United States alone is still prevalent, with no cure in sight. Floyd’s Covid-19 diagnosis is another reminder of the racist systems that informed and eventually ended his life. The CDC reported that black people have been infected and hospitalized at a higher rate than white or Latinx people and in the state of New York, the epicenter of the virus, “death rates among Black/African American persons (92.3 deaths per 100,000 population) and Hispanic/Latino persons (74.3) that were substantially higher than that of white (45.2) or Asian (34.5) persons.”
Though the CDC doesn’t assign cause to the death rate, the organization plainly lays out how these statistics correlate to institutional racism. Black Americans and other Americans of color are more likely to live in underfunded and underrepresented areas with limited access to healthcare, grocery stores, or educational information. They are also more likely to live in “multigenerational households,” making it easier to spread disease, especially when one or more person in the home is asymptomatic. They are also more likely to have jobs that require leaving home, making it easier to contract the virus.
Protests over the last few days have shown a racially diverse gathering of people being tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed by police officers, methods that specifically attack the respiratory system. And Covid-19, a virus that affects the respiratory system, impacts those with existing heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease–a discrepancy that also correlates with race. Black and Indigenous Americans are more likely than any other racial group to have asthma, and “non-Hispanic black persons are more than twice as likely” as other groups to die from heart disease.
Doctors may eventually come to a consensus on whether George Floyd was killed by asphyxiation or heart failure. But what is abundantly clear is that racial disparity and injustice, which manifested in Floyd’s illness, his alleged heart condition, racist policing practices, and his eventual encounter with Derek Chauvin killed another unarmed black man.