by Noble Maseru
As the nation pins its hopes on the efficacy of vaccines to end the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take a realistic look at how we will reduce the raging spread of the virus in communities of color and ensure equitable vaccine distribution and access for the hardest hit populations in Allegheny County.
The COVID-19 case count in the United States has reached more than 16 million following the Thanksgiving holiday when the greatest number of people traveled by air since March of this year. COVID-19 is now the nation’s leading cause of death. With the virus running amok, hospitals are overwhelmed, and medical personnel are exhausted and overworked from coast to coast.
For Black Americans throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 rates of hospitalizations and deaths have been higher, and case rates continue to rise at a disproportionate rate compared to white residents.
The unfortunate reality is that as goes the country so goes Allegheny County. In a coronavirus pandemic that spreads through contact with infected people, every opportunity to reduce the number of cases is an opportunity to keep more people safe and healthy.
To this end and from my position as a professor of public health practice with a career spanning 40 years in the areas of human services, academia and public health, I call upon the county to implement four measures that will address the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 virus on the Black community and to develop a plan that will inform equitable distribution of the vaccine to improve the safety of all residents and avoid “vaccine deserts.” It is crucial that the county establish trust with communities of color because of the historical harms caused by medical researchers on communities of color.
I also invite our region to join me in applauding the county for its collaboration with community-oriented initiatives like Father Paul’s Neighborhood Resiliency Project, the Federally Qualified Health Centers, and The Black COVID-19 Equity Coalition. Working closely with entities that have long-standing and trusted relationships with residents is a proven formula for success. Such organizations have systems in place to reach a vast majority of people who call those communities their home. If these partnerships can be enhanced – let’s do so.
Now, let’s take a look at the numbers, keeping in mind these numbers represent people – souls. The numbers show an alarming situation in Allegheny County.
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