Published: Pittsburgh New Courier Post. 3/18/2020

This special edition of the “Take Charge of Your Health Today” page focuses on COVID-19 (also called “coronavirus”) and our communities. We hope this special edition can be a guide for residents in Allegheny County. Erricka Hager and Bee Schindler, community engagement coordinators, University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and Esther L. Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, spoke about this topic.

BS: Good morning, Ms. Bush. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today regarding the global outbreak of COVID-19. We want to help keep our community members safe during these uncertain times.

EB: Erricka and Bee, thank you for meeting urgently to discuss this pandemic. I’m so grateful that we are discussing how COVID-19 may affect us locally and, specifically, communities of color. This is a rapidly evolving situation. We are committed to sharing relevant information with the communities we serve.

EH: I agree, Ms. Bush. This health page reflects our dedication to advocating for communities that are negatively affected by injustices embedded in our country’s policies and systems—especially when we think about our health.

EB: In times like these, we, together as a community, can make an impact by doing our parts. Protecting the most vulnerable means that the healthiest people need to take action. Taking action is doing things like staying at home, avoiding large crowds, washing hands and being aware of the symptoms of COVID-19.

BS: Yes, the CDC says if you are not feeling well, staying away from public spaces will lessen the chance of sharing the virus, while also decreasing the spike—or curve—of new infections.

EH: As noted elsewhere on this page, “flattening the curve” does not mean that we will have fewer cases overall. It means slowing down the number of new cases each day. That means less stress on our hospitals. The fewer people at hospitals or doctors’ offices, the better chance there is for very ill people to receive the life-saving medical care they need.

BS: Another important way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to practice “social distancing.” We in the community enjoy hugging and embracing one another when we meet, but, in times like this, avoiding contact with people who are sick is a safe practice. We need to think about elders, including parents, grandparents and loved ones, who are at risk of getting really sick from COVID-19. People whose immune systems are weaker are also at a greater risk for becoming seriously ill. Younger and healthier folks can help by limiting social and professional outings so as not to put our most vulnerable people in danger.

EH: Absolutely, Bee. As we wait to see how local communities will be affected, we know that some of our community members have less access to resources to help with added stressors. Think about workers having to decide between lost wages or taking care of kids at home because of school closures, people who lack health insurance, or people who experience an increase in racism because of being incorrectly associated with COVID-19. These are mounting concerns.

EB: You’re right. There are a lot of concerns and still a lot of questions that need to be answered. Thank you, Bee and Erricka, for having this conversation with me. Now truly is a time to Take Charge of Your Health. We hope that our readers are doing just that during this pandemic. To close our conversation, I want to include here a message that we received from our friends from regional foundations:

Statement from regional philanthropies on COVID-19:

Our organizations are deeply concerned about the economic, health care and human services challenges that the COVID-19 crisis presents across Southwestern Pennsylvania, especially to our most vulnerable residents.

We know communities of color will face disproportionate harm, and we are developing a plan to provide support and assistance that will happen quickly and go broadly.

While we can’t predict the full measure of what this region will face, we know the keys to getting past this emergency are to work together to build our capacity to solve the problems we’ll face and care for one another so that we emerge stronger and more resilient.

· Bobbi Watt Geer, President and CEO, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania

· Grant Oliphant, President, The Heinz Endowments

· Sam Reiman, President, Richard King Mellon Foundation

· Dave K. Roger, President, Hillman Family Foundations

· Lisa Schroeder, President and CEO, The Pittsburgh Foundation