Democratic New York state Assemblymembers Pat Fahy and John McDonald hosted a virtual town hall Thursday on health disparities found among communities of color during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fahy, who represents Albany’s 109th district, says underlying social and historical issues have placed underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged communities at increased risk.
Capital District Latinos Board Chairman Dan Irrizary is concerned that English language messages aren't reaching Spanish-speaking residents.
"I'm very concerned that we have families that are multi-generational living in tight quarters who are have fear of COVID and not understanding what the symptoms might be not understanding how to access resources not being insured and multi-generational housing means somebody in that home is going out to get groceries. It's going out to get services and maybe Grandma's infected and nobody wants to take her to the emergency room because ice might be waiting there too. So I see the importance of messaging being so critical at this time because if we don't get the proper message out to our community, we're creating vectors of illness of virus."
Irrizary adds he questions any public COVID-19 statistics due to lack of outreach.
Dr. Brenda Robinson, founder of the Black Nurses Coalition, says the community is wary of what she calls mixed messages during the pandemic.
"Prior to COVID-19 you had the Medicaid reform where you want to decrease ER visits by what, 23% and to disrupt, then when COVID-19 came on board, they told you 'stay away from the ER, away from the ER, we don't want you to go,' and now you have folks saying 'where are the people, they're not coming to the ER?' Well, you scared the people half to death. 'Yes I know something's wrong with me. No, I'm not going, you just scared me. I'm afraid.'"
Robinson agrees with Fahy that health disparities have been exacerbated by COVID-19, exposing existing inequalities in the healthcare system and society at large. Robinson points out another inequity.
"I think when you don't have people of color in decision-making positions, that impacts how we move forward. When you have people making decisions for us that really don't know us then it's very difficult to move forward and even impact a lot of the issues that we have."
Contact tracing could also open a Pandora's Box of issues in minority communities. Fahy says there may be a way to deal with that.
"Some technology that would allow you, without naming names, to be able to contact folks. But that means access. Somebody would have to log in to say on their phones, I would accept a notification that somebody I know has been diagnosed with the virus. So there's some protocols around that, but a lot of a lot of privacy issues that we're going to need to tackle with this sooner rather than later."
Fahy adds moving forward society needs to recognize that health disparities transcend racial and ethnic lines. She contends low wage essential workers at high risk of infection are disproportionately people of color.
In an interview with WAMC, fellow Democratic Assemblywoman Latrice Walker of Brooklyn said the coronavirus is pointing up the need for environmental justice.
"We will you know, of course make sure that our our air is cleaner, and we also need to make sure that air pollutants are discussed in any and all legislation moving forward, which addresses climate and the community and the environment."