Author: Sara Habibipour
As COVID cases continue to rise exponentially in the United States, many Americans have started to look toward President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris for a solid plan to combat this disease. From televised debates and interviews, we all know this plan consists of expanding CDC surveillance, daily reports to the White House, etc. But, arguably, the most important part of this agenda is the “Racial Equity Plan.” According to Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease expert named to President-elect Biden’s COVID task force, “...equity is very front and center for the task force, making sure that we're doing our best to protect those who have borne a disproportionate burden of the disease up until now; that we very much address their needs in terms of testing; that we locate testing centers in the hardest-hit communities; and that we make sure that the health care providers serving those hardest-hit communities, those hospitals, those doctors, those nurses have the resources they need to care for those patients” (The World).
According to Joe Biden’s official website (joebiden.com), this plan starts with “ensuring that every person who needs a test can get one--and that testing for those who need it is free.” From the start of the pandemic, we have seen what have been named as “testing deserts,” or areas where COVID-testing sites are limited or nonexistent, which tend to be in low-income and rural communities. The reason for the presence of testing deserts is multi-layered. But, it starts with the fact that the presence of testing sites has been prioritized in urban and wealthier areas. In the Bay Area, for example, “...about half of the community testing sites remain in wealthier ZIP codes. Meanwhile, there are still no permanent sites in working-class East Palo Alto — which has the county’s highest case rate — or in coastal towns with large farmworker communities. Only roving clinics that set up a few days a week service those areas” (GovTech). In low-income and rural communities, it is also unlikely that people will have the transportation services to go out of their way and get tested. Another problem is that testing sites offer only limited hours (GovTech). For many working class families who work multiple jobs and shifts a day, there simply isn’t time to go get tested, let alone with their own money. Because low-income, rural, and minority communities have continued to be most impacted by the pandemic, it is vital that the Biden administration follows through with their plan to expand testing, in addition to making it free, to allow and encourage those who can’t afford to pay to get tested.
COVID-testing is significant because it helps inform the public health officials on what communities are suffering the most and where resources need to be allocated. Based on the results of expanded COVID testing, the Biden administration also pledges to “ensure that training, materials, and resources reach federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, and safety-net hospitals, which are typically resource-poor and care disproportionately for vulnerable populations that will bear the brunt of COVID-19.” This is a significant step toward achieving equity in COVID response in low-income, rural, and minority communities, and hopefully these actions will be carried out to their fullest potential within the next few months.
In addition to the more immediate health-related plans to achieve racial equity, the Biden administration also pledges to economically aid low-income communities through better education, housing, and business infrastructures (which will aid the health of these communities in the long-run), as well as prevent the spread of misinformation to further prevent acts of racism against Asian-American communities.
Now, you may be wondering, “That’s great stuff, but how is this relevant to ending the pandemic? Aren’t there other things we should be worrying about?”
Many public health officials and health equity advocates say that in order to appropriately respond to COVID-19, we must transform how our nation thinks and responds to the pandemic in these communities not only to contain this outbreak, but to prevent the next.
According to NPR, a key example of how we must shift our strategies presented itself during state lockdowns in the spring; "...telling a person to "stay home" to prevent COVID-19, without understanding that their home is a one-bedroom apartment with four people and no safe way to isolate, or that they are an 'essential worker' with no ability to work from home or otherwise earn money to put food on the table, is largely devoid of pragmatic, actionable advice for many people. And it actually ends up perpetuating more harm to them and to society.” If government officials, especially those under the Biden administration, could apply an “equity lens” (NPR) to situations such as these, it would help make progress in the communities that are struggling the most from the pandemic.