Racist Virus?

Trigger warning: Racism ahead.

By now you’ve probably seen this NYTimes article describing the horrific state of affairs at a New York City hospital. Patients dropping like flies, nurses reduced to wearing trash bags, refrigerated trucks brought in to house the overflowing dead. I was struck by the cognitive dissonance — my brother’s hospital across the city was nothing like that. His hospital admitted many COVID-19 patients, but few have been severe cases and none have died. Today Hillary Clinton (SHE’S TOTALLY RUNNING YOU GUYS) ordered pizza for everyone, and the hospital workers had a pizza party.

I wondered if NYT was making shit up to advance some political agenda, as they are wont to do. But then I remembered that my brother’s hospital serves a white neighborhood (New York City has over 60 hospitals). Elmhurst Hospital (the one featured in NYT) is smack-dab in the middle of an Asian community in Queens. And by Asian, I mean Southeast Asian – Thai and Vietnamese.

Yet Thailand and Vietnam have had surprisingly few COVID-19 cases, and only a handful of deaths between the two countries.

In a Fox News column, former CDC Director Tom Frieden points out that over 40% of Americans are Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D contributes to immune function by regulating cytokine production, so respiratory infections are more severe in those who are deficient. (Look, I know it’s Fox News, but there’s substantial peer-reviewed research backing this up.)

Our bodies produce Vitamin D proportional to the amount of light penetrating the skin, and light penetration is inversely proportional to melanin density. UV rays decrease as you move further from the equator, which is why Northern Europeans evolved to have fair skin. Agriculture further reduced Vitamin D intake and increased demand for UV-induced production. Polar populations (eg. Inuits) consume a diet of fish and meat – foods rich in Vitamin D – therefore they retain a darker complexion despite getting the least sunshine. [1]

Boris Johnson tested positive for COVID-19, but he’s practically translucent so he’ll be fine.

When sun people transplant to cloudy New York, a Vitamin D deficiency ensues. This is only a theory, and I’m sure there are many confounding factors. I’ll update this post as I find more evidence either for or against.

1. Razib Khan, Skin color & Vitamin D & folate. Discover Magazine, July 8 2007.
2. List of cities by sunshine duration


  • Racial Data compiled by Ibram X. Kendi, Director of Antiracist Research at American University (06-Apr)
  • Are some ethnic groups more susceptible to COVID-19? University of Hawaii (02-Apr)
  • Iceland has tested 3.5% of their population. Out of 1,020 confirmed cases, only 25 were hospitalized, 9 in intensive care, zero dead (?!). Live data here.
  • Six of the 15 people who died of COVID-19 in Stockholm were of Somali descent (24-March)
  • According to this article, 80% of Italians are deficient in Vitamin D (28-March)
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