So, I've Been Thinking: The Impact Of COVID-19 On Communities

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CEG Founder & Executive Director, A. Toni Young

I’ve been thinking about the impact of COVID-19 on communities, on networks of people, on families and individuals. In addition to its direct toll on the health of older and medically vulnerable people, on the economy, and on people’s day-to-day lives, this pandemic has also highlighted a number of social ills. Essentially, it has aggravated “pre-existing conditions” in our society, like disparities in access to medical care and services, and lack of access in some communities to necessary resources.

Whether it’s access to Medically-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for persons with Substance Use Disorder (SUD), or syringes for trans folks on hormone therapy, during this pandemic, how do we have a productive conversation about those being essential needs and essential services? CEG is doing work in a very rural setting in West Virginia, and also in urban Washington, DC, but the challenges seem similar in both places. The biggest challenge before us is equity.

That’s the challenge going forward: equity in resource allocation, equity in service delivery, equity in information dissemination, equity in the availability of testing and treatment not just for COVID-19, but for ongoing health threats like HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and others. And the other thing this situation has highlighted for me is that none of us can go at this alone. No one individual — no one population — can attack this problem of access and equity on its own. If we want to get those services and resources to the people and communities that need them — whether that’s testing for COVID, or access to syringes, or just access to clean water because you don’t have running water in your home — we are going to have to work together in coalition.

For the rural segment of this initiative, Community Education Group is now working with TruEvolution in Riverside, California to ask Congress for a $5 billion federal grant allocation in the current or next iteration of the CARES Act to help vulnerable populations in rural communities across America. The goal is to help people access services, and to build the rural public health infrastructure needed to respond to COVID-19 and to future outbreaks and diseases. In conjunction with this effort, we are starting up the Rural Health Service Providers Network (RHSPN) to help direct funds and resources to where they are needed most.

We need to figure out a truly collaborative model for black communities, as well — one that accomplishes the same goals via community-specific strategies on issues such as PrEP education, HIV screening, access to care and treatment, follow-up, and workforce development. We need a Black strategy, but so often we get locked into a, “What about me? What about mine?” mindset, and we don’t get much traction, or maybe a few get it, but others are left behind. The bottom line, in both Rural America, and in Black America, is that we need to do this in a collaborative way, or it’s not going to get done.

That’s what I’ve been thinking...