As the Delta variant upended hope of returning to normal this summer, Mother Jones reporter Edwin Rios published a deeply reported story on Flint, Michigan, recounting how residents of this predominantly Black city have battled COVID-19 in spite of government distrust, neglect, and environmental catastrophe.
But the pandemic isn’t Flint’s first crisis: In 2014, public officials implemented cost-cutting measures that led to dangerous concentrations of lead in the city’s water supply. Up to 12,000 children were exposed to contaminated water. Then-President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency. And in 2021, nine people—including ex-Gov. Rick Snyder—were indicted on criminal charges in the matter.
A few years later, when COVID-19 barreled across the globe and vaccinations became a political flashpoint, Flint already had an infrastructure of outreach and support in place. Their water crisis wound up being a crash course in how residents learned to band together in a catastrophe—and shows how one community used a dose of social medicine to close the gap between Black and white suffering during a pandemic.