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State Senate Policy Hearing on the Impact of COVID-19 on the African American Community

By PA Senate

State Senate Policy Hearing on the Impact of COVID-19 on the African American Community
At the request of state Senators Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware, Vince Hughes (D-Philadelphia), and Shariff Street (D-Philadelphia), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a virtual public hearing to discuss the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the African-American community.
“This hearing is intended to find out why so many African Americans are dying from COVID-19,” Haywood said.
Hughes added, “We have known for quite some time that policies such as redlining have kept communities of color segregated from wealthier and whiter neighborhoods. The city of Philadelphia serves as one of the worst examples of redlining in the U.S., which is why it is no surprise black and brown folks in the city are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Institutional racism like this has led to the devastating health consequences that have since been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic and it is long past time we address the issues at the root of this problem.”
Dr. Rashawn Ray of the Brookings Research Institute, said that within Pennsylvania as a whole, “Blacks represent 20% of COVID-19 deaths but only 11% of the state population.”
Dr. Uché Blackstock, CEO and Founder, Advancing Health Equity said, “If Black Americans had died at the same rate as white Americans, about 13,000 Black Americans would still be alive today.”
Dr. Blackstock also said that black men face the shortest life expectancy, black babies have the highest infant mortality rate, and black women have the highest maternal mortality rates.
“Living in this country has essentially made Black Americans sick,” said Dr. Blackstone.
Reporting by the Inquirer also revealed that African American workers are more likely to have low-wage, essential-worker jobs, such as grocery clerks, delivery, and other service industry jobs. This leads to an increase in chances of exposure, and limited resources to take time off if they or a family member becomes sick or infected with COVID-19.
“It is unjustifiable that in addition to working essential jobs that put them at risk, those in the African American community are also significantly more likely to catch this virus and die from this virus,” Williams said. “We must do better for the African American community in terms of healthcare now during this pandemic, and we must also continue to work to break down the barriers African Americans face when it comes to accessing quality healthcare.”
Dr. Ray also pointed out that health problems in the Black community do not manifest because Blacks do not take care of themselves, they face higher face higher rates of health issues because healthcare resources are criminally inadequate in the neighborhoods that they live in.
Street added, “I am very grateful to the churches and community doctors who have stepped up to provide testing and resources in our African American communities during this pandemic, but we should not have to rely on their goodwill to access healthcare services. We as a legislature, and we as a society must break down the barriers that have caused so much unnecessary loss and suffering in our communities.”
Dr. Priscilla Mpasi, Attending Physician in the Division of Community Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia also said that while most data collected on COVID-19 patients, we cannot forget the impacts that that this virus and the social implications have on children and families as a whole.
“I personally witness the impact of COVID-19 on children, from decreased well-child visits, decreased rates of vaccinations, education disruptions, food insecurity and housing instability,” Dr. Mpasi said. “Equally concerning are the missed appointments for children with chronic conditions and special health care needs. We are now seeing an increase in household injuries and anticipate an increase in childhood obesity, as well as anxiety and depression, especially in our adolescents.”
Dr. Ray also mentioned a number of specific recommendations that can be implemented that can improve health outcomes for the African American community during this pandemic and in all areas of healthcare. They include immediate release of demographic data of those effected by COVID-19, testing and triage centers need to be placed in Black neighborhoods, making sure that essential workers have paid leave, hazard pay for all essential workers, a living minimum wage for all workers, and universal healthcare.
Senator Lisa Boscola (D- Lehigh/Northampton), who chairs of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, added, “I thank my colleagues for requesting this hearing, because as we begin to reopen our communities we must take the hard lessons that we have learned during this pandemic and use them as a catalyst to create much needed improvement. We need a healthcare system that provides for the needs of all Pennsylvanians.”
            The following testified at today’s hearing:
Senators Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), Judy Schwank (D- Berks), Katie Muth (D- Berks/Chester/Montgomery), Maria Collett (D- Bucks/Montgomery), Tim Kearney (D- Delaware/Chester), Pam Iovino (D- Allegheny/Washington), and Lindsey Williams (D- Allegheny) also attended this hearing.