Experts Respond to Killer Virus

Watch out for those elderly who are alone. We’ve seen so much of the negativity but if we’re paying attention there so many amazing grassroots community-oriented projects and activities. We can start with something as simple as the number of masks that are being made at home,” said Dr. Stacie Walton, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in San Leandro, California.

NASHVILLE, TN – Experts briefed reporters from minority news outlets last week on COVID-19 and the stimulus programs passed by Congress in March.

Three doctors talked about healthcare in their communities and one labor lawyer talked about new rules for collecting unemployment insurance and paid sick leave.

An IRS Deputy Commissioner discussed the Economic Impact Payment of $1,200 per person.

Dr. Tung Nguyen, University of California, San Francisco, gave an overview of the pandemic. “The U.S. continues to lead the world in the total number of infections with over 400,000 cases reported, with over 13,000 deaths. New York continues to be the hardest hit with over 140,000 cases and 5400 deaths statewide,” said Nguyen.

He said 90% of the U.S. population is under shelter-in-place orders and lockdown orders have been in effect a lot longer in Europe. Researchers in England looked at measures 11 European countries have taken to stop the virus.

“They estimated 59,000 lives have been saved by these actions in Europe,” said Nguyen. Despite the economic hardship the disease is causing, Nguyen cautioned against relaxing social distancing rules too soon. Until fewer numbers of people catch the disease than those who already have it, the disease is winning.

“One controversy to which we have an answer is whether we should wear masks outside. The answer is ‘yes’ as long as it is not diverting needed supplies from healthcare workers,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen noted some very stark and alarming disparities emerging in places like Chicago, Milwaukee, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Washington D.C. As the Tribune reported last week, COVID-19 is infecting African Americans at a disproportionately higher rate than any other group. For example, 69% of people who died in Chicago are black but African Americans make up only 30% of the city’s population. Similar numbers have been recorded in other places.

On April 14, the Department of Health reported 5,823 cases of COVID-19 and 124 deaths in Tennessee. Forty-nine percent of the cases are white, 20% are black, and 24% are pending.

These websites are tracking information by country, state, county, and also in multiple languages:

  • Worldwide and country data:https: //www.statnews.com/2020/03/26/covid-19-tracker/
  • State and county numbers: https://covidcounties.org/
  • Information in multiple languages: https://covid19healthliteracyproject.com/#languages

Dr. Stacy Walton is a pediatrician with a public health background. She was distressed to hear the news about high mortality among African Americans but not surprised. “We cannot underestimate the level of mistrust that exists in the African American community towards the health system in general and this mistrust is very rational,” said Walton.

She ticked off a number of reasons why blacks distrust the medical profession: during slavery blacks generally had no access to healthcare and many still don’t; African American males were guinea pigs for the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments from 1932-1972; WW II mustard gas experiments on enlisted soldiers, who were African American, Puerto Rican, and Japanese American, remained secret until 2008 when they were finally exposed in 2008 by Susan Smith, a Canadian researcher, who published an article in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics.

Walton said African Americans have a lot of stress in their lives and that weakens their immune system. Watson said African American “co-morbidities of diabetes, hypertension, and respiratory illness” are socially determined illnesses and the root cause, in public health terms, is lack of access.

“Healthcare is a privilege in the United States. It is not a right. We don’t all have access so you have African Americans coming to this epidemic with untreated comorbidity in those areas,” she said. COVID-19 statistics show that health disparities in the U.S. are a matter of money.

“If you are poor in this country and you do not have the financial ability to pay for medication, you will have chronic diseases that kill you because they go untreated,” Walton said.

She said when the public health recommendations first came out many people ignored them. People still congregated in large numbers during Mardi Gras in New Orleans and in black churches everywhere. “Why? That’s a source of comfort. It’s a source of connection, not realizing the harm, and on top of that there are some governmental agencies and some little people with power in our government who chose not to take this seriously,” Walton said.

She noted that social distancing works, wearing a mask works, hand-washing works and Walton urged people to keep doing what works to prevent the spread of the virus. “Keep in mind that this horror will pass. It will pass. It may take some time but if we can adopt these public health measures in the short-term we can prevent more infection and ultimately more deaths.”

Labor lawyer Sebastian Sanchez summarized the income replacement options that are available to workers sidelined by the pandemic as well as some of the leave options under three different CARES Act programs.

The supplemental and extended unemployment benefits are federally funded but administered by states just like the regular unemployment insurance program. In Tennessee, they are paid by the Department of Labor at 220 French Landing Drive, Suite 1B, Nashville, TN 37243. The phone number is 844-224-5818. You can apply on line here:

https://www.tn.gov/workforce/unemployment.html or here: https://www.tn.gov/workforce/unemployment/apply-for-benefits-redirect-2/online-application.html

Last week, the number of new unemployment claims in Tennessee was 112,438, up from 3,000 just three weeks ago.

As part of the CARES Act, Congress authorized a Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. It is an additional $600 per week for people receiving unemployment. Tennessee’s weekly benefit maxes out at $275, so that is a real windfall.

“Undocumented immigrants whether or not they have been paying taxes are simply not going to be eligible for any unemployment benefits. This includes all of the supplemental benefits that were passed through the CARES Act,” said Sanchez.

One part, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), provides up to 12 more weeks of unemployment benefits. In Tennessee, which pays UEI for 26 weeks, workers can receive benefits for a total of 38 weeks.

Sanchez said that the CARES Act added Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for independent contractors and gig workers who normally are not eligible because they are not leaving an employer. He said Lyft and Uber drivers should apply for unemployment and the Labor Department will determine if they are eligible.

Teachers sidelined by the virus because their schools are closed can apply for unemployment insurance. So can a parent who has to stay home to take care of their children.

Under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, workers can get paid at their full salary for two weeks. And under another program, parents who have to sty home to take care of their kids can receive 2/3 pay for up to ten additional weeks.

This article was produced with support from Ethnic Media Services and the Blue Shield of California Foundation.

 

 

 

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