Focus on the most vulnerable and the most at-risk populations
September 1, 2020
Coronavirus testing and outreach should focus on the most vulnerable and the most at-risk populations. An equitable testing strategy is an essential part of an effective plan to treat the disease and create the conditions for an economic recovery. From the onset of the pandemic, I’ve called for access to testing, especially for vulnerable, marginalized, and at-risk people.
Columbia County has offered several free walk-up testing clinics in the City of Hudson. In September 2020, the County authorized the creation of mobile testing teams to further expand access to tests, especially for vulnerable groups that lack transportation. These testing programs are an essential part of the County’s low case count.
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Columbia County has distributed test kits to area nursing homes.This proactive testing is an important step and the county should continue to distribute test kits to vulnerable populations.
Responding to Lack of Testing
[When] more testing becomes available…the next priority is to protect high-risk populations, especially people living in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and other settings where infections spread quickly and accelerate a flood of patients in hospital intensive care units.
When New York State first declared an emergency due to the pandemic, Columbia County and the nation didn’t have the necessary testing capacity. As testing became available, it took more time to create a testing strategy that included the most vulnerable populations.
During the early months of the pandemic, two nursing homes had significant spikes in confirmed cases, which led to many hospitalizations and deaths. The quick rise of cases demonstrates the importance of testing early. Without preventative measures, coronavirus spreads quickly, especially in at-risk populations. Waiting until there are confirmed cases leads to large outbreaks.
When Columbia County first issued free testing clinics, they were limited to healthcare workers and first responders—excluding other types of essential workers and at-risk populations. Eventually, the County did offer free testing to essential workers.
Periodically, the county still struggles with lack of testing capacity.
Adjust Testing and Community Outreach Based on Results
Where we have confirmed cases, we need to physically separate people so they don’t spread the disease as well as test people with whom they may have come in contact. Columbia County has found alternate housing for people so they could have housing separate from a family member with coronavirus.
If there are trends on who is contracting coronavirus, we need to increase community outreach to that area and also increase testing. For example, if we find that nursing home residents and employees are more likely to contract the disease, we should increase efforts directed to all nursing homes as well as similar institutions such as senior living facilities.
This data is central to understanding injustice and ensuring the optimal health of people, but it is gravely missing in this crisis — missing from health department websites, daily updates by political leaders and, until recently, news reports.
Columbia County and New York State should use demographic data to ensure we are providing effective access to tests and medical treatment.
Time to Care
No matter what we look like, where we live, or what’s in our wallets, getting sick reminds us that we’re all just human. To prevent the spread of coronavirus, everyone must have access to treatment and some way to make ends meet.
For too long, we’ve let a powerful few divide us. They pad their own profits by making life and health a product for sale.
We must rewrite the rules to ensure everyone can access the care we need. This is a moment that we must stand with and for each other across our differences to ensure all of us can care for our families and get and stay healthy.
Learn more about coronavirus response.