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Coronavirus has overtaken how people are living their lives and is now controlling their psyche – as it should.
Reaction has ranged from indifference to paranoia. On one end of the spectrum, reckless students from University of Austin chartered a plane and flew to Mexico for spring break. 44 of them contracted coronavirus. On the other, fake news circulates, conspiracy theories go viral on WhatsApp, and people self-medicate with chloroquine, leading to paranoia.
What is fact and what is fiction?
Ethnic Media Services held a video briefing last Friday, March 27th, with a panel of medical health professionals and advocates who are on the forefront of coronavirus research, work, and policy. The panelists addressed current information about the virus, safety measures, and effects on marginalized communities.
Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras, Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and Dr. Rishi Manchanda, Health Begins, spoke about overlooked populations and how their health will actually determine the efficacy of COVID-19. Turner-Lloveras pressed that we need to ensure access to public health for those that are undocumented or without health insurance. 43% of undocumented immigrants are without health insurance and are high risk populations if they contract the virus.
Additionally, the pandemic has the potential “to disproportionately affect communities of color and immigrants,” Dr. Manchanda confirmed. He expanded that the reason for this is that these populations are at a “greater risk for exposure, have limited access to testing, and have severe complications.”
Many frontline staff for essential services belong to such communities and are at a higher risk of exposure because of their contact with the public. People on the frontline are unable to take time off due to the nature of their job and their dependency on the income; many continue to work while sick. Infection can spread from work to home and into these communities due to the density of housing.
Once exposed, vulnerable populations have limited access to testing for a multitude of reasons – fear of the healthcare system, lack of health insurance, inability to communicate their needs, and underlying racism.
Infection from this virus can cause complications leading to chronic illness. The risk of developing chronic illness is higher for communities of color. Research shows that African American, Latinx, and Asian Americans have an increased probability of having chronic illness, over white populations; “Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are at twice the risk of developing diabetes than the population overall.”
The nascence of a pandemic brings with it a pressing need to address the gaps within the structural framework of the public health system in America. If we are unable to effectively help disenfranchised communities, then we are ineffective in controlling the spread of the virus.
“By caring for others, you’re caring for yourself,” Dr. Turner-Lloveras urges.
Public health is not an economic drain or a privilege, it is a right. Dialogue around healthcare has long forgotten the systemic racism embedded in it; the wealth gap limits the accessibility to health care or good health care. NAACP studies have found connections between coronavirus and negative impacts on communities of color.
But racism has moved beyond just health…
Asians and Asian Americans are experiencing racism at higher rates. Manju Kulkarni, Executive Director of Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, recounted a story of a child experiencing verbal and physical assault for being of Asian descent at a school in LA. Since then there have been around 100 reported cases a day of hate towards AAPIs on public transit, grocery stores, pharmacies. Kulkarni and her team at A3PCON are doing everything in their power to legislate and educate.
That said, it is our social responsibility to stay informed and updated. “Bad information is deadly,” states Dr. Tung Nguyen, University of California, San Francisco, as he gives quick rundown of what is known about COVID-19 thus far:
- Currently there is no known vaccine or immunity from COVID-19.
- Vaccines are 12-18 months out, if the vaccine was approved for phase 1 testing today.
- COVID-19 has exponential spread; if there are 200,000 cases this week, there will be 400,00 cases next week, 1 million cases the next week, and 4 million cases by the end of the month.
- COVID-19 is an infection that leads to sepsis and those with sepsis require ventilators; this has led to a national shortage of ventilators.
- There is a 1.5% – 4.5% death rate from COVID-19.
Information to keep you safe:
- Have the healthiest person leave the house to get essentials.
- Have a room to disinfect in before entering primary areas of the house.
- COVID-19 is in the air for 3-6 hours, lasts 24 hours on cardboard, and on steel and metal for 72 hours.
- Clean commonly touched objects – faucets, handles – with disinfectant.
If you are sick, call your hospital or provider in advance. Hospital resources are currently limited and telehealth measures have been put in place to assess patients from a distance. You can find more on the CDC website.
Dr. Tung Nguyen and Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras, both gave one big takeaway – the best thing one can do during this pandemic is STAY AT HOME.
Abide by the shelter in place regulations and continue to keep the dialogue about the pandemic open. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us of the need for awareness, the importance of early containment, and the accessibility of health care to colored communities/immigrants.
Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.