COVID-19 testing

Volunteers with the Black COVID-19 Doctors Consortium test people for the novel coronavirus in the parking lot of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in April.

— Tribune Photo/Abdul R. Sulayman

As the human family across the world copes with the crisis of COVID-19, this global catastrophe has magnified the crisis within the crisis: Black and brown people shouldering the brunt of the diagnosed COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Suffering from pre-existing health conditions (diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc.) due to present and historic holistic health deprivations in communities of color, Black and brown families have suffered casualties on the front lines of this pandemic as the world struggles in the wake of thousands of lives lost and millions of lives forever changed as we confront life in the “new normal.”

To discuss the new normal in the wake of the effects of the pandemic on communities of color, I recently convened a virtual panel discussion with African-American experts in the fields of education, business, and health and community activism. The context for the discussion included some grim statistics: According to the CDC, African Americans accounted for higher confirmed deaths in 19 of 24 states almost twice the rate of their white counterparts. The panel of experts and participants during the discussion presented immediate and long-term national and local solutions.

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As president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League, Marc Morial eloquently stated during the panel discussion, “African-American communities need a national health care equivalent of a Marshall Plan.” This plan would designate millions of dollars to increased community testing, access to personal protective equipment and additional funding in health care support.

Additionally, the long-term health care focus should also address progressive changes to the current culture of systemic indifference and neglect in delivering health care services to African-American neighborhoods. Including more health care professionals of color to work throughout marginalized communities to help craft national health care public policy would be an excellent first step.

Beyond seeking a broad national COVID-19 action plan for the African-American community, I am asking that Philadelphians and the African-American community across Pennsylvania join me in supporting the following action steps locally and throughout the commonwealth:

Demanding increased testing access throughout African-American communities.

Advocating to legislators that small African-American businesses and working people, particularly people on the front lines — modestly paid health care workers and social service providers — have access to unemployment benefits and additional funding opportunities.

Championing equity in health.

Supporting funding for summer supplementary education programs for children, in the tradition of “Read to Lead,” that will help to offset the school year interruption.

Activism and advocacy are necessary steps in systemic change, as is good public policy. To that end, our recovery efforts must focus on Black and brown communities, providing much needed capital to prioritize a strong resurgence.

Through the PA CARES Plan, my colleagues in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus and I are pushing to allocate $300 million for historically disadvantaged communities to provide targeted business grants, COVID-19 education, testing, tracing and data collection, and grants for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Healing will come from addressing the disparities and underlying systemic issues head-on, and in a way that recognizes the reality that has affected this nation throughout its history: When white folks catch a cold, Black folks get pneumonia.

Focusing on equity, equality of health delivery and providing economic resources, we can use this crisis as a catalyst for progressive changes throughout our communities as we defeat this pandemic — and, if need be, being adequately prepared for the next public health crisis.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District.

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