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Good morning, and welcome to the Fresnoland Lab newsletter. Today is Friday, April 17th.
Many people have said that COVID-19 is the great equalizer (perhaps most famously, Madonna). No one is immune from the suffering of this global pandemic. And while most of us at this point know someone who has been infected, or have made great sacrifices in our home and work lives, more data show that the crisis is disproportionately felt by black people and communities across the country more than any other group. In California, African Americans represent 6% of the total population, but 12% of the total deaths from COVID-19, according to the California Department of Public Health.
To learn more about which groups and communities could be most vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 in the central San Joaquin Valley, I spoke with Dr. Tania Pacheco-Werner, co-assistant director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State. Below is an excerpt of our conversation. The transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Which groups — or neighborhoods — are most at risk for being infected and potentially dying of COVID-19 in the central San Joaquin Valley? What are we seeing so far?
First are rural communities, because they will be going in the latest to get care — they are less likely to live close or have transportation to health-care facilities. Because they will be getting care later, their cases will be more severe and complicated.
The second group are those communities that are already identified as living in areas with poor air quality and exposure to more greenhouse gases. Based on new data that we’re seeing around atmospheric pollution being a co-factor in terms of susceptibility to the virus, these are the places where you may be seeing infection hot spots happen. In the Central Valley, African American and Latinos are more likely to live in places where there is higher air pollution.
People with respiratory conditions are classified as high-risk. People’s lung functions were already compromised before this crisis hit. While Covid-19 knows no race or class, because of the way in which it attacks the body through the respiratory system, that means that everyone that was already suffering from the woes of structural racism are going to be at risk.
What will it take to get better data locally on who is most at risk, in real time? Would more testing help?
We haven’t peaked yet, so it’s hard to do a comprehensive analysis. We don’t have sufficient numbers of cases to know what it’s going to look like. The lack of testing is preventing us from having a full understanding of what’s going on.
I do think that when it comes to Latinos, it’s going to be really interesting to see how many will have access to testing, just because of what we already know about who faces a shortage of access to health care and health facilities. We are nowhere where we need to be in terms of health care access. When people don’t have health insurance, or a primary care provider, if their only medical access is the emergency room — they don’t have someone who knows their medical history, if they have underlying conditions and can help advocate for them to get tested.
How should local policymakers, health professionals, and others on the front lines of response to this crisis be working to minimize racial disparities in both health and economic outcomes?
We need better information. Are we missing the boat in terms of how we communicate to groups that may be most at risk? When it comes to Spanish-speaking communities, it’s not just a flyer that’s needed, we need more robust engagement to debunk myths, help people understand how information relates to their immigration status. Really targeted information to the people who are going to be most affected.
Right now, the most important thing is to keep people and communities as intact as possible. We need to keep people in their homes, with the lights and water on, with their kids. If we have unstable neighborhoods going into the recovery, we are starting in a negative position. Once we know the demographics of those most impacted by COVID-19, then we can direct resources to families and neighborhoods that are most impacted as well.
While this can be a very emotionally exhausting time for everyone, now is the time to pull up our sleeves and think about those long-term infrastructure challenges that have made it so difficult to get information to people, to tackle root problems. It’s not just COVID-19 — because of climate change, we have to think about wildfires, about the drought. Some of these very same disparities will come to light then. Disaster preparedness should be about tackling some of these root problems. More of these types of emergencies will be coming and ongoing. Our region has the capability to not only survive something like this, but if prepared, we can thrive, and actually grow from situations like these if we are willing to take bold, long-term actions.
(What stories are not being told in our coverage right now? Send tips to me: firstname.lastname@example.org)
And now, the week’s top reads:
(For the most recent local coronavirus updates, visit www.fresnobee.com/coronavirus.)
Renters, need answers to your questions about the new eviction protection laws? Check out the Facebook Live hosted by the Fresnoland Lab with experts from Central California Legal Services and Fresno State here.
Fresno area sees large jump in coronavirus cases. Fresno County Public Health Officer says we have more work to do to improve social distancing. Fresno Bee
Foster Farms workers seek increased safety measures amidst pandemic. Fresno Bee
Valley parents need help with an expensive commodity: diapers. Valley Public Radio
San Joaquin Valley farmworkers fear working — and not working — amid coronavirus. Fresno Bee
Local chicken farmers see a spike in sales due to COVID-19. Valley Public Radio
Home sales down in March in the Central Valley compared to 2019, after COVID-19 crisis began. The Business Journal
Deportation protection is sought for farmworkers in the next federal coronavirus stimulus bill. Fresno Bee
As the new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act law is implemented, groundwater markets are becoming increasingly popular. SJV Water
A wave of investors are moving inland, seeking new businesses and better quality of life. New York Times
Danielle Bergstrom is the policy and engagement editor for Fresnoland, a new venture of The Fresno Bee focused on housing, land use, development and neighborhoods.