State decries racism as public health threat during COVID-19

Dr. Cardra Burns
"ONE SMALL DOWN PAYMENT": Dr. Cardra Burns, senior deputy director of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health, said a recent request for qualifications targeting minority businesses was just a small step toward bringing about health equity in the state. Screen capture courtesy of the N.C. Department of Public Safety

George Floyd. I can’t say anything else without first saying his name.”

That’s how Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, began the state’s first COVID-19 press conference after a weekend of nationwide protests against racial injustice: by invoking the name of the black Minnesota resident whose May 25 killing by police catalyzed the demonstrations.

Noting that 34% of the state’s 898 COVID-19 deaths through June 1 have been among African Americans, who make up roughly 22% of North Carolina’s population, Cohen emphasized that structural racism has created health disparities in black communities. Higher levels of diabetes, heart disease and other conditions among those communities, she said, make COVID-19 more dangerous for people of color.

Dr. Cardra Burns, senior deputy director of the NCDHHS Division of Public Health, said the state had issued a request for qualifications specifically designed to engage minority-owned businesses in testing and contact tracing for COVID-19 among historically marginalized communities. She said that firms “must demonstrate racial, ethnic, cultural and language competencies” reflective of those populations to be considered for contracts.

“It’s one small down payment on our commitment to action,” Burns said of the RFQ. “We must focus on health equity. We know what it takes to build strong communities: access to quality primary and preventative care, affordable healthy nutrition, quality education and affordable housing. Keeping our communities healthy and safe requires a commitment to providing these necessities.”

Mission notes sustained increase in COVID-19 patients

Over the past two weeks, the average number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized throughout the Mission Health system has at least doubled, going from fewer than six to 12 or more. Dr. William Hathaway, the system’s chief medical officer, shared the news during a Buncombe County press conference on June 1.

“While unfortunate, and certainly disappointing and tragic, for the families and the patients involved, I would not say that this is unexpected at this point in time given the increased mobility that we have seen in our community,” Hathaway said. “As we open up the economy, we will continue to expect to see additional cases of COVID-19.”

Hathaway assured the county that Mission still had adequate capacity of intensive care unit beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment to care for all COVID-19 cases. He said ICU capacity in particular could increase “by two- or threefold” before the system would be overwhelmed by the disease.

Still, Hathway urged the public to continue taking precautions against the spread of the coronavirus. “Nothing has changed since the beginning of the epidemic except the passage of time,” he said. “Despite the ability to move around more freely, we should really only do so when it’s absolutely necessary.”

In other news

  • By the May 30 emergency order of N.C. Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, the state’s ongoing stay of eviction proceedings has been extended until Sunday, June 21. Beasley also announced a new voluntary mediation program designed to redirect some of the state’s more than 9,000 pending evictions out of the court system.
  • The Henderson County Department of Public Health will host a free COVID-19 community testing site at the campus of East Henderson High School on Tuesday, June 2, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Testing will take place in the gymnasium at 85 Stadium Way, East Flat Rock.
  • Asheville has resumed the enforcement of on-street metered parking, which had been suspended since March 18 “to support convenient access to goods and services” in response to COVID-19. All city and county parking garages will remain free until further notice.
  • Buncombe County Schools will host virtual graduations for the system’s nine high schools from Wednesday, June 3, through Friday, June 6. Videos will premiere on each high school’s Facebook page; a full schedule is available here.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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