More masks, for frontline workers and and for families who can’t practice social distancing.
Stronger advocacy for black people’s rights, both in the hospital and in the state house.
And recognizing a long history of racial trauma and institutional discrimination while at the same heeding the advice of public health experts.
Local black political leaders and health experts identified those strategies as key to achieving a racially just response and recovery Thursday night during a Covid-19 virtual town hall hosted by the Greater New New Haven National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Around 85 people signed in for the hour-long online conversation, which was held online via the Zoom teleconferencing app.
Branch President Dori Dumas (pictured), Yale New Haven Hospital Chief of Internal Medicine Gary Desir, state NAACP Health Chair James Rawlings, local psychologist Gretchen Chase Vaughn, and Cornell Scott Hill Health Center Program Director Sandra Gibson all piled on the data to show what the mayor’s office and reporters and advocates at the local, state, and national levels have been documenting for weeks: The the novel coronavirus pandemic has hit African American communities disproportionately hard.
Desir presented state Department of Public Health data from Wednesday showing that positive coronavirus cases among black Connecticut residents have made landfall at 612 people per 100,000, compared to 533 for Hispanics, 278 for non-Hispanic whites, and 159 for Asians.
That same data set showed that Connecticut African Americans have died from Covid-19 at a rate of 59 per 100,000, compared to 46 for whites, 24 for Hispanics, and 8 for Asians.
“This and racism is literally killing us, and we must fight it,” Dumas said about the pandemic.
The reasons for such a disparate impact are manifold, Desir said, and are rooted in both historical and present-day racial inequalities.
Citing a slide put together by Yale School of Medicine Assistant Professor Marcella Nunez-Smith, Desir (pictured) said those reasons include misinformation and distrust among some black residents in institutional messaging from governments and health care providers; the impossibility to work at home for many in low-wage, essential jobs; limited access to high quality healthcare; inability to socially distance in close residential settings; a higher likelihood of living in densely populated neighborhoods and homes; and a greater burden of co-existing conditions, like diabetes and asthma, that increase risk of a severe negative health outcome.
So what do do about it?
For one, Desir and Dumas said, follow public health best practices by washing your hands frequently with soap and water, maintaining a social distance of at least six feet or more when out in public, and wearing masks when social distancing is impossible.
“You have to be concerned that anyone could be infected and just don’t know it,” Desir said about the apparently high rate of people who are asymptomatic, and therefore carrying the virus and capable of spreading it without having any fever or dry cough.
Desir said that governments and health care providers need to do a better job of distributing masks in working-class black and brown communities.
“Masks are a very good tool to prevent you from getting infected and to prevent you from infecting someone else.”
He called on governments, nonprofits, and advocates to prioritize making available fresh and healthy food to people in black and brown communities who have been laid off or furloughed during the twin public health and economic crises, and who may not have ready access to a grocery store or market.
And he said that everyday people and political leaders must advocate for equal treatment for black and brown people by institutional health care providers, who have historically downplayed or ignored people of colors’ health concerns.
“We have to advocate and have people at the table in leadership positions that represent communities of color,” said Vaughn.
Dumas said that state NAACP leadership met with the governor Thursday.
She said they have also sent a letter to state government calling for more rapid testing in urban areas; the distribution of more personal protective equipment like masks and gloves to frontline workers; a public awareness and education program about Covid-19 targeted at black and brown communities; safety measures taken to protect the incarcerated from the virus; regular reports on the impact that the pandemic is having on K-12 students; and economic stability for small businesses owned by people of color.
“Black and brown people are dying,” Dumas stressed. “If we want to win and if we want to really come out of this and have our family members with us, we have to listen to the experts.”