IN THE FACE OF ANOTHER IMPENDING SURGE OF COVID-19, ALONGSIDE THE FLU AND RSV OR ‘TRIDEMIC’, A STATEMENT FROM THE OREGON HEALTH EQUITY ALLIANCE:
As of December 19, 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic is NOT over. Despite presidential statements, lifted mask mandates, lessened quarantining protocols, lessened access to treatments and vaccines, the pandemic continues to infect, injure and kill. The fact that these decisions come after repeated acknowledgment that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities, poor people, and disabled people is not lost on us. We are deeply concerned for our communities’ present and future and demand action.
Why is OHEA making a statement about COVID?
First and foremost, we are making this statement out of love for our communities who continue to navigate immeasurable difficulties, grief, and trauma related to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of December 19, 2022, almost 9000 individuals have died from COVID in Oregon, and countless others live with the long-term impacts of COVID including long COVID, economic and housing instability, mental health stressors and social isolation. 1.1 million people have died due to COVID in the United States. Much of this could have been prevented if not for racism, ableism and staunch individualism. Our communities who already face the brunt of health inequities, deserve to not only live, but thrive. We have a responsibility in creating a world where that is possible.
County, state, and national public health authorities have struggled to keep up with the torrential waves of emergency the pandemic has brought since 2020. Their capacity to maintain ongoing public health programs and services has been severely taxed to the detriment of those communities most reliant upon our public health system to protect their health in the most basic ways. Funding and long term planning for COVID-19 related programs is inconsistent at best. Data collection practices have been dismal with the lack of disaggregation shadowing the needs of communities deemed unmeasurable or inconsequential and the changes needed are slow coming.
Our community partners, communities most impacted, are being tapped to advocate for vaccinations and hosting vaccine events with their communities because there’s a lack of trust between community and the government. These pressures amplify the burnout and fatigue BIPOC communities are experiencing, especially in the face of rent increases, increases in costs overall, lack of mental health resources, and continued violence towards people of color. Additionally, our state’s booster rates are at 40% and disparities in vaccination rates still persist for various communities of color as well as immigrant and refugee populations due to institutional barriers.
The levels of transmission rise despite declarations of safety. As of December 15, 2022, 98.5% of the US population lives in an area with substantial of higher transmission. And we can expect a surge this winter. We cannot “go back to normal”. COVID-19 and its impacts are present in every decision made from now on, conscious or not. Long COVID is a mass disabling event with many sighting difficulties getting the care and support needed to navigate this new chronic condition. Now is the time to act from a place of creativity and care rather than fear, capitalism, and ableism. In addition to long COVID, the mental health impacts have been and will continue to be enormous. We are not on the brink of disaster, we are actively navigating the disaster. Both Long COVID and increased mental health impacts have and will continue to have profound impacts on the lives of our communities if sufficient action is not taken.
People are worth more than anything we do, create, sell, or provide. This is not the time to dispose of one another. This is an opportunity to choose, commit, and practice something different than what we’ve been doing.
We’re asking our state and county public health partners, health systems, community partners to:
Prioritize people’s health and lives over dollars, particularly folks most impacted by COVID including folks living with disabilities and communities of color.
Provide consistent, science-backed messaging around the pandemic that is available in a variety of formats and languages. We look towards the work of the People’s CDC as an example of what this can look like.
Institute programs that provide free quality masks and testing options for all Oregonians.
Be deliberate and actionable in a plan to track and support long COVID as a chronic disease.
Be deliberate and actionable in a plan to the growing mental health impacts, including grief and trauma, relating to the pandemic.
Ensure continued access for those with disabilities to meetings and proceedings through virtual options.
Create sustainable funding support for community based organizations and networks to address the impacts of COVID as well as nurture mutual, reciprocal partnerships.
Prepare plans that adequately reflect the emerging needs of a huge group of people, again disproportionately BIPOC, who will now have to navigate, and need support with managing the symptoms of long COVID. This includes medical care, employment support, social support and benefits navigation support.
Implement intentional community-centered ways to provide hybrid, if not fully virtual convening options for folks to support COVID prevention.
Use this as an opportunity to dismantle structural racist practices, not create new ones - Without values rooted in racial and disability justice, we will continue to perpetuate their opposites. We will continue to perpetuate harm.
Ask our state Legislators and new Governor to support investments in Public Health Modernization for the upcoming biennium and future funds.Additional, continued funding to support accessible COVID testing access
To Those In Solidarity and Whom We Represent,
To Those in Solidarity and Whom We Represent,
You and your lives matter. We matter.
We encourage you to be fearless in your commitment to disability and racial justice. OHEA is with you.
We join in solidarity with those who continue to work remotely and the organizations who continue to offer remote work to protect our employees.
We join in solidarity and respect with those who must choose to take COVID-19 risks to make an income.
We continue to learn and respond to what our communities need and want to survive and thrive in the time of COVID-19.
OHEA will be announcing a community COVID storytelling project to create an archive of our own experiences.
Esther Kim & Uju Nwizu
Co-Directors, Oregon Health Equity Alliance