Is the Country Reopening on Our Backs?

By John M. Palmer, PhD.

Well, if you thought the confusion was over or about to sort itself out, remember who we are dealing with and think again. We are in June and the President has rejected his own disease fighting agency’s reopening plan; while back at home, our Governor’s “Phased Reopening” (soft plan or something like that ) sounds like a business reopening from an expected hiatus—nice and easy. NOT! HELLO, this is supposed to be the rest of our life reopening!

The healthcare system in this city has been decimated, the professional healers are demoralized, and the people of color fear for their lives and the lives of their families. How about “Lessons Learned from the Pandemic and How They Will Change our Lives for the Better” as a preamble to “Phased Reopening”?

On March 14, 2020, I sent an email to WBLS radio announcing the high risk of people of color in NYC contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus. As a board member and co-chairperson of the Health Committee of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, this notice had been given there earlier. I have now been credited with being ahead of the city, state, and federal government in predicting the health disaster of the century for people of color.

My prediction came from seeing the last 20 years of data most health professionals and high-ranking officials in this city have also seen. AFTER WUHAN AND ITALY THEY KNEW IT WAS COMING. By April 14, 2020, the federal government had admitted the disastrous impact the coronavirus was having on American people of color. At the time the numbers swirling around this issue were staggering—70 percent of the deaths in New Orleans, 60 percent of the victims in Chicago, and almost 60 percent of the dead in NYC were identified as people of color. Sadly, they are worse now.

In hindsight, perhaps the delay in admitting the fears they had to be harboring were tied to the fear and guilt of the knowledge of health disparities in this country. Health authorities have known the poor health status of people of color for years. Maybe they felt helpless to make a concrete difference in the feared outcome.

What if the folks most at risk had been warned from the beginning—black and brown people with multiple comorbid health challenges who live in overcrowded conditions with no substantial way to finance the self-enforced quarantine or avoid places where social distancing is virtually impossible? In addition, if they had established the first testing sites in the neighborhoods and nursing homes of the most at risk, might we be looking at a different outcome? Well, we may have another chance to protect the black and brown people of this city who continue to fear for their lives.

• Make sure we ALL have the protections (PPE), modeling, and predictions we need going forward to avoid or at least accurately predict the second wave’s appearance.

• Ensure all school-age children have the necessary equipment to fully participate in the learning enterprise and communicate their concerns (internet, laptops, tablets, etc.).

• Announce changes to facilitate family contact during hospitalization. iPads or portals should be available for all patients.

• Assure that no family member will be told their relative’s status is “unknown.” His or her presence or absence in a healthcare or assisted living facility will be established and reported in a timely fashion.

• Neither finally nor lastly, patient and family complaints regarding medical care during the fury of the pandemic should be reviewed as soon as possible to find discernible patterns of outstanding or substandard care to be replicated or eliminated.