Ensuring access to testing and treatment is also critical. To date, Georgia has established many drive-thru, but few walk-in, testing sites. People of color are over-represented among those without access to a car, creating an unnecessary barrier to testing. At the same time, they are over-represented among low-income workers, who are both more likely to be in essential industries and service jobs that increase their risk of exposure and less likely to have access to affordable health insurance coverage, due in part to Georgia’s failure to expand Medicaid. Those falling into the coverage gap, not eligible for Medicaid or a health insurance subsidy, were estimated at more than 250,000 prior to the pandemic. This number is growing daily as record numbers of Georgia workers have lost their jobs.
Low-income communities and communities of color are not only more likely to experience serious health complications from COVID-19, they are also at greater risk for social and economic consequences. A public health response requires addressing the social and economic impacts that are integral to health and safety. This means ensuring a strong social safety net to support critical areas like economic assistance, food access, and housing stability. There are urgent steps our state can take today to support Georgia families. These include expanding economic assistance, extending access and reducing barriers to food support, and enacting a moratorium on housing evictions and foreclosures. This must also include relief for borrowers, whether homeowners or landlords. As noted by colleagues from Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, and Emory University, families cannot provide a stable and secure environment for children or vulnerable elders, without stable housing.
Public health leaders recognize that our nation is now facing two public health crises — the COVID-19 pandemic and the longstanding pandemic of systemic racism. Federal and state leaders must take targeted action now to address both public health crises and ensure the health, safety, and stability of those communities being disproportionately impacted.
Harry J Heiman, M.D., is an associate professor in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University. Rodney Lyn, Ph.D., is interim dean at the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.