FL’s communities of color face COVID-19 disparities

Gov. Ron DeSantis has adopted the Trump administration's line on alleged Chinese hoarding of protective gear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, a staffer at Community Health of South Florida prepares to test people in the parking lot of its Doris Ison Health Center on March 18, 2020, in Miami. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

With federal health officials concerned about the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately affecting the African American population, state lawmakers in Florida are looking into ways to increase access to testing in communities of color.

State Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat representing part of Broward, is urging Gov. Ron DeSantis “to consider adding more COVID-19 testing sites in predominantly black communities.”

“People who are the most vulnerable to exposure [of COVID-19] have the least access to accessible testing,” Jones said in a press release.

Democratic State Rep. Shevrin Jones, of Broward County. Credit: Screenshot, Florida Channel.

Jones, who plans to host a video conference with other Democrats soon, also said in a phone call with the Florida Phoenix that his constituents have called him with complaints about “the location of where the test sites are.”

“A lot are away from urban areas,” Jones said. “Most of the individuals who have called, spoke about testing sites (that) are too far.”

The large counties of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach are in the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Florida Department of Health provides testing data to the public, in twice-daily data reports. But there’s no breakdown by race.

Wednesday’s 284-report, for example, shows 143,247 people tested for COVID-19, with 15,456 positive results. But there’s no race/ethnicity breakout.

The 284-report also includes one page of race/ethnicity data on infections, hospitalizations and deaths. It shows, for example, that of 309 deaths Wednesday afternoon, 54 percent were white, non-Hispanic, and 17 percent were black, non-Hispanic. That 17 percent was the second-highest percentage in the group of 309 deaths.

Many black people are at a greater risk because they must continue working essential jobs to pay bills, compared to people who can stay home, Jones argues.

“Additionally, black people use public transportation on a daily or weekly basis at the greatest rate,” the press release said, which puts them at an even greater risk of exposure to the virus.

However, at Tuesday’s COVID-19 response meeting at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis said his administration has partnered with the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital to bring some relief to underserved communities in Florida.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

DeSantis said the University of Florida Shands is “going to offer clinical support for underserved populations.”

“We have some new developments with the testing throughout the state of Florida, we’ve opened a second drive thru testing site in conjunction with Palm Beach County…if you look at Palm Beach County, there’s a need for more testing there,” DeSantis said.

And on Wednesday, DeSantis joined Miami Beach leaders to announce that the Miami Beach Convention Center will be used as a hospital for patients with COVID-19 if hospitals in that area become too crowded.

Meanwhile, at a White House coronavirus briefing Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci drew attention to the pandemic exacerbating health disparities that have already existed in African American communities nationwide.

According to a transcript from whitehouse.gov, Fauci said:

“I just want to make a brief comment to get back to the discussion about the health disparities in — in the African American community because it really is very important…when you’re in the middle of a crisis like we are now with the coronavirus, it really does have — ultimately shine a very bright light on some of the real weaknesses and foibles in our society.

“I see a similarity here, because health disparities have always existed for the African American community,” Fauci added.

Jones said members of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida will gather this week via video chat to address the challenges many African Americans face during the pandemic.

“I think it’s an important conversation to be had,” Jones said. “We need solutions in the black community that go beyond our status quo expectations.”