San Jose leaders approve recommendations to address COVID-19 health disparities
Santa Clara County is ramping up COVID-19 testing along with offering flu shots. File photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    San Jose leaders unanimously accepted 30 recommendations Sept. 1 from Santa Clara County’s Health and Equity Task Force to tackle growing health disparities in the time of COVID-19.

    The recommendations include translating emergency information, contact-tracing, extending rent relief, distributing food and adding additional COVID-19 testing sites.

    Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco said as of Aug. 31, more than 170 cases were reported in Santa Clara County, but many residents still don’t know where to get the services they need.

    “We find that there is still a lot of fear in our community,” Carrasco said. “Early on it was not clear to the community where they could get tests, which is why we continue pushing for clear, consistent and actionable messaging.”

    Since May, the task force, led by Carrasco and State Assemblymember Kansen Chu, has been meeting with residents, health care clinics, nonprofit organizations and county leaders to better understand health inequalities during the pandemic, particularly among people of color.

    Twenty percent of Latinos do not have health care in Santa Clara County, according to Carrasco.

    “The Latino community is now facing infection rates that are double than that in the general population,” Carrasco said Aug. 26 when she proposed the recommendations. “We must continue to deploy the appropriate resources to meet the needs of our communities who are not only facing the disproportionate health impacts of the virus but also the devastating economic impacts.”

    Latinos comprise 25.8 of the population in Santa Clara County but account for 33 percent of all coronavirus deaths and almost 54 percent of all infections. Whites make up 32 percent of the population but comprise only 30 percent of coronavirus deaths in the area, according to an Aug. 20 memo by Carrasco.

    The task force aims to direct individuals to tests, hygiene products, shelter and meals to minimize health inequities. Carrasco said the city must look beyond basic food delivery and consider a diverse set of food needs. She recently partnered with Veggielution, a community farm in East San Jose, to deliver culturally appropriate meals to residents.

    Carrasco also called for increased worker protections, including sick leave, safer environments and housing if they test positive for COVID-19.

    “Many workers are scared of being fired if they report safety violations,” Carrasco said.

    The city will combine boots-on-the-ground efforts with social media and phone outreach to disseminate information to workers so individuals can know their rights.

    Councilmember Sylvia Arenas said moving forward with the task force’s recommendations is an opportunity for the council to help end its part in contributing to structural racism.

    “Can we do more? Absolutely, because future generations are going to take a look back and see what kind of policies lead to whatever the future holds for all of us and for our children,” Arenas said on Aug. 26. “They’re going to say either we addressed those disparities or we created some of those disparities or we continued with the cycle of disparities.”

    Michele Lew, CEO of the Health Trust, an equity and health organization in Silicon Valley, thanked Carrasco for her leadership.

    “Since the task force began, we’ve seen noticeable improvements in testing and contact tracing, and especially in community outreach. But the work is just beginning,” Lew said. “We stand ready to work with you to ensure we are reaching and serving residents in our hardest-hit neighborhoods.”

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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