Daily COVID-19 Briefing April 22, 2020
United Church of Christ – Wider Church Ministries
Humanitarian Development Team
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Daily Briefing
Barbara T. Baylor, MPH – Temporary Health Liaison
Reopen states? A call to think independently and act collectively
I am at a loss.
In Georgia, which I now call home, the governor has issued orders to reopen the state, insisting that it’s safe – despite the still-increasing numbers of deaths, hospitalizations and confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Beginning Friday in my state, many businesses may reopen, “following social distancing guidelines.” These include nail salons, hair salons, barber shops, gyms, fitness centers, massage therapists, bowling alleys and body art studios.
COVID-19 is a deadly infection. In the absence of a vaccine, the only way we can get it under control is by slowing its spread through a public health strategy known as “flattening the curve.” Many states and cities have issued “stay-at-home” orders designed to keep people safe. Throughout the world, countries have implemented “social distancing” guidelines, including “shelter-in-place” orders.
We know that airborne transmission of COVID-19 is plausible. In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine last month, research scientists at Princeton University, UCLA and the National Institutes of Health concluded that the virus could remain airborne for “up to 3 hours post-aerosolization.”
CDC Director Robert Redfield has said, “It’s very possible that a second wave of COVID-19 is coming this winter and could be deadlier because we will have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.” Given this possibility, should Georgia be allowing nail salons, barber shops, hair salons, and so on to reopen given that they do require close contact? Unless we keep doing what we are doing, we are not going to conquer this virus. The virus is the problem!
As a public health professional, I am very disturbed by the governor’s decision for several reasons:
- CDC guidance released by the Trump administration says that states need to have 14 days of declining new case totals before they can begin easing restrictions. That requirement has not been met in Georgia!
- President Trump also has stated that reopening should include a robust testing program for at-risk healthcare workers. While the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) has increased the number of sites statewide for COVID-19 testing and has revised the current testing criteria to accommodate more Georgia residents, it is still currently only available to symptomatic individuals. Health care workers, first responders, law enforcement and long-term care facility residents and staff are prioritized for testing regardless of whether they are or are not symptomatic. That still leaves untested large numbers of individuals with coronavirus who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic and who unwittingly can transmit the virus to others. Widespread testing to find out who has the disease is still a problem, not just for Georgia, but for the country in general.
- We cannot allow people to go back to work in situations that are not safe – i.e. the same jobs that increased their risks in the first place for catching COVID-19. People need to feel safe and secure in their environment. We can’t allow cities to put consumers and workers in danger of getting sick or, worse, of dying. Again, mass screening and testing including perfected antibody testing is needed before we reopen any state or city.
- If businesses reopen, will they really be able to practice social distancing? How many businesses can afford to rearrange or construct new areas that will fulfill this requirement? How do barber shops, nail salons and hair salons social distance? Consider that both customers and professionals may be wary of getting too close to one another no matter how badly they need to reopen, or get their nails buffed or hair done. How can you get your hair styled or cut while six feet away? It is surreal.
- Racial realities. Asians, African Americans and Hispanic/Latinx workers and consumers are disproportionately being affected by and infected with COVID-19. They are more likely to lack access to healthcare coverage, and to have high unemployment rates and low economic stability. These are the persons who are going back to work or receiving services in these now so-called “essential” businesses, putting them at greater risk for contracting the coronavirus. Racial discrimination remains an ever-present barrier to treatment for people of color and many have experienced racial discrimination when going to a doctor or health clinic.
- Healthcare coverage. Georgia, along with a good number of other states, has not expanded Medicaid. More than 2 million uninsured adults earning below-poverty wages don’t qualify for Medicaid and fall into the coverage gap. It is imperative that Georgia expand Medicaid and close the coverage gap. Approximately 240,000 adults in Georgia are in the coverage gap, and Georgia has the third worst uninsured rate in the country at 13.4 percent.
Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick recently stated that “there are more important things than living!” What?! I say, life is important for everyone! As a country we cannot afford to fully reopen our states, cities, schools and businesses until we have an acceptable vaccine, widespread free testing that includes contact tracing, affordable healthcare, adequate medical supplies and equipment, and employment assistance for small businesses and individuals.
Faith communities are encouraged to think independently and act collectively to:
1. Contact your governor asking them to choose life for their residents by continuing social distancing and shelter-in-place orders until it truly is safe to lift them.
2. Contact governors asking them to expand Medicaid now for residents who lack health coverage. See The Coverage Gap: Uninsured poor adults in states that do not expand Medicaid.