Dr. James Wright II, Ph.D. Awarded Grant from Florida State University to Study Why People of Color are Particularly Vulnerable to COVID-19

One size fits all may work for a facemask these days, but James E. Wright II, Ph.D. is working to prove a similar, universal program does not work as an overall response to the virus causing the need for the PPE.

The coronavirus COVID-19 has affected nearly everyone’s daily life in one way or another, from plummeting stock markets and rising unemployment on a macro scale to social distancing to closed parks in your own neighborhood. Some communities have implemented curfews while some states have put mandatory stay-at-home orders into place.

“Resources are being distributed to fight COVID-19 on a massive scale, but the data shows marginalized and underrepresented peoples – people of color, native peoples, the elderly, low-income people – are particularly vulnerable,” said Wright, an assistant professor at the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy. “We have been analyzing early data from several Florida counties and the initial results are startling. In Leon County, the state-reported number of diagnosed cases of African Americans and whites with COVID-19 is nearly equal, but there are twice as many whites living in the county. I’m convinced this is not a one-size-fits-all situation.”

To establish a stronger baseline, Wright is collecting and analyzing information from all 67 Florida counties as part of a grant-funded from Florida State University. The dataset and analysis will be completed by August 2020. The information includes how many tests have been administered, who has tested positive for the virus, who is hospitalized, and how many people have died from complications of the virus. The medical data will be combined with demographic and economic data from the county level in an effort to understand how economic and racial disparities may affect populations at the local level as well as Florida Department of Health data with American Community Survey data.

“This dataset will be able to track COVID-19 data at the county level,” Wright said. “That can be much more local and much more responsive than a state-level or national-level project. When you match the COVID-19 data up against demographic indicators and economic information, you can develop tools to more efficiently distribute financial and medical resources to help alleviate any inequities in these areas. To put it bluntly, you have a better chance of getting the right resources where they will do the most good.

“The data will give us a localized look at how communities in Florida are handling COVID-19,” Wright continued. “The end result should allow specific counties and local communities to base their policy decisions on data specific to their communities and their needs. Florida, or California or New York, is not a single, monolithic community. The needs of Cape Canaveral are going to be different than Key West. Local data can help local leaders help their community.”

Wright’s team is also working on drafting a policy brief to address the specific social and economic impacts of COVID-19, again based on the local dataset.

“The model could then be used by any state to examine the same local data for the same targeted response,” Wright said.

The initial Florida statewide dataset is the basis for the application for a COVID-19 Russell Sage Foundation grant. This second grant will fund the exploration of racial and socioeconomic disparities related to COVID-19 in the Southeastern United States and how those factors can impact economic stability for African Americans.

Wright teaches in the Master of Public Administration Program at Askew School of Public Administration and Policy. His work sits at the intersection of racism, policing, and protests.

Outside of his COVID-19 work his published and current projects include an examination of police policies and practices regarding the use of force, the implementation of body cameras programs by police departments, and the affect school resource officers can have on student performance.

About Dr. James Wright

James E. Wright II, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy, where he teaches courses in the Master of Public Administration Program. Dr. Wright seeks to address how organizational behavior impacts goals and outcomes, primarily for people of color. Dr. Wright’s research projects focus on topics within the field of public administration, public policy, criminal justice and sociology. His current projects include examining police use of force policies and practices, the use and implementation of body-worn cameras by police departments, and the impact that school resource officers have on student performance. For more information, please visit


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