COVID-19 From One Black Perspective

By Monique Gaskins

This year has not gone as expected. I’ve hesitated to address our country’s current situation because there are so many different issues impacting us right now. In Portland, there won’t be a return to normality for the foreseeable future. Many people are struggling with feelings of anxiety, our economic indicators show vast discrepancies across socioeconomic groups, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic– with limitations to our physical movements and social interactions, and underneath everything, is a widespread awakening to the struggles and injustices that Black people have experienced for hundreds of years. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.” In other words, while changing our behaviors to lower our risk of exposure to COVID-19, we may also be feeling anxious or stressed. Since we are practicing social distancing to help lower our exposure risk and opportunities to spread the disease to others, we might be isolated from our friends, family, religious organizations, and other support systems. For some people, this anxiety and isolation have led to an increase in suicidal thoughts. The CDC finds reports of suicidal ideation to be higher in Hispanic and Black individuals than in the general population. As neighbors and friends, we can respond to these facts by intentionally checking in on friends and family. 

Unsurprisingly, the increase in uncertainty has manifested itself in the economic realm too. Unemployment rates are significantly higher than they were earlier this year. In August, as I write this article, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Oregon’s unemployment rate at 10% for July. In February of this year, before the impact of the Coronavirus became widespread, our unemployment rate was 3%. Oregon’s state legislature has responded with a moratorium on evictions (currently through September 30th) and a six month grace period to pay back rent. This bill should provide some relief to Oregonians impacted by job loss or underemployment this year. Again, Black people might struggle from an outsized impact from job loss. Although Black Americans constitute 13% of the U.S. population, they hold less than 3% of the country’s wealth. Many systemic reasons are contributing to this discrepancy, but the result is that Black people may have a smaller safety net and a more difficult time finding a new job if they are laid off, furloughed, or able to access fewer shifts. 

Systemic racism as demonstrated by police violence and political apathy has played a prominent role in mainstream media this summer. Across our country, Americans can watch recordings of police officers killing Black Americans while suffering few consequences. An organization called Mapping Police Violence measures 751 fatalities from police violence from January 1st to August 24th of this year. Although Black people represent 13% of the United States’ population, they represent 28% of these deaths. Across the country, this has sparked discussions about defunding the police and using that money to instead support social services and other organizations to uplift our communities rather than relying on disciplinary-first tactics. 

The city of Portland’s 2021 budget, including funds for the Portland Police Bureau, was approved even after racial unrest and protests had become more prominent. Although some organizations and city council members supported a more significant cut to the Portland Police Bureau’s budget, only a fraction of that proposed 50 million dollars was re-routed to other parts of the city’s budget. However, Portlanders have dedicated their time and risked their safety to continue to push for changes from the Police Bureau and our city’s leadership.

The impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic are being felt differently by different parts of our population. Black people are more likely to be negatively impacted in many ways; we are more susceptible to economic instability, more likely to hold jobs that increase exposure risks, and more likely to suffer from the effects of police violence. Through the repeated acts of public violence against Black people, it may feel like society is saying that Black Lives do not matter. Locally, our city’s protests demonstrate empathy for Black Lives from a majority white city. Protesters demonstrate their willingness to risk their safety in solidarity with Black people by showing up nightly and standing against police brutality. Portland’s recurring protests demonstrate that there are people in our communities who are willing to support Black Lives.

I’m a Black Portlander, and this is only my opinion. I’m sure my background is very different from many other Black Portlanders. My perspective cannot represent everyone’s point of view. But, if any of this resonates with you, there are ways for you to provide support. Locally, you can join nightly protests or donate to the Black Resilience Fund or PAALF (Portland African American Leadership Forum). Local organizations, like Black Feast, also support Black joy as their way of resisting the violence and inequality felt by many Black Americans. You can donate to these organizations or support Black-owned businesses and artists here in Portland. 

Across the country, many professors, authors, and artists have shared resources to help us understand racism better. We have options spanning books, articles, movies, and podcasts such as Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, The 1619 Podcast by the New York Times, and “Where do I donate” by Courtney Martin. We can support national and local elections and get out the vote campaigns. Portland’s next mayor and potential Police Bureau Commissioner will be decided in this cycle along with national leadership. There is no reason for us to sit on the sidelines. This year has not gone as expected. COVID-19 highlights some of our systemic failures and shortcomings. This year has been challenging for so many people; I hope that we can look at our collective weaknesses and take this opportunity to build a more just society.

Sources: 

CDC – stress from coronavirus: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html#:~:text=The%20coronavirus%20disease%202019%20(,services%20you%20rely%20on.

CNN – increase in suicidal thoughts: https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/14/health/young-people-suicidal-ideation-wellness/index.html

Oregon unemployment statistics: https://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.or.htm

Rent moratorium: https://multco.us/chair-kafoury/covid-19-eviction-moratorium-information#:~:text=If%20you%20are%20a%20tenant,for%20nonpayment%20during%20the%20moratorium.&text=Tenants%20will%20have%20a%20six,rent%20from%20the%20moratorium%20period.

NPR – Black Americans and Covid 19: https://www.npr.org/2020/06/03/868469779/black-americans-bear-the-brunt-of-the-covid-19-pandemics-economic-impact

Mapping police violence: https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/

Paalf defund police: https://www.paalf.org/defund

Police budget: https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2020/06/portland-passes-budget-with-millions-in-cuts-to-police-spending-but-short-of-public-demand-for-50-million-reduction.html

Resources:

Where do I donate: https://thebolditalic.com/where-do-i-donate-why-is-the-uprising-violent-should-i-go-protest-5cefeac37ef9

Just Mercy: https://justmercy.eji.org/

1619 Podcast: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/podcasts/1619-podcast.html

A-dec and Legacy Health Announce Joint-Effot to Fight COVID-19

By Jordan Bean Blossom and Kristin Whitney

Rachel Boggs, NTICU nurse at legacy Emanuel medical Center and Bryan Goodin, Manager of Employee health at Legacy. Photo courtesy Legacy Health

A-dec and Legacy Health today announced an agreement for A-dec to manufacture and provide much needed supply of personal protection equipment (PPE) for Legacy hospitals and health care facilities.

“For more than 55 years, A-dec has lived by the principle of prioritizing concern for people above all else.” said Scott Parrish, A-dec President and CEO. “As a family-owned, Newberg manufacturer, A-dec is proud to partner with Legacy Health to bring much-needed PPE to Oregon’s health care workers. This is what we should be doing during this unprecedented time: working together to solve problems and take care of communities.”

A-dec has been working to develop PPE that are in critical demand by health care workers who continue to prepare to meet demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legacy has a significant need for headband face shields and plastic shield coverings for their Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR) helmets worn during procedures that provide protection against airborne illnesses.

The safety and well-being of our patients, their families and our staff is Legacy’s top priority. We continue, along with other area hospitals, to pursue aggressive measures to secure PPE and are increasing our PPE stores, including partnering with local companies such as A-dec to replenish critically needed supplies,” said Lewis Low, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer for Legacy Health. “We are incredibly fortunate to have exceptional local manufacturers, like A-dec, aggressively pivoting business operations and innovating to help us support the health needs of our community during this pandemic.”

Face shields made by A-dec for Legacy health. Photo courtesy A-dec.

A-dec is a family-owned, privately held dental equipment manufacturing company with headquarters in Newberg, Oregon. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company launched programs and infection control resources to support healthcare professionals practicing dentistry during the crisis.  The collaboration started when a Legacy Health nurse and an A-dec employee began discussing hospitals’ needs for PPE and A-dec’s manufacturing expertise. Following that conversation, A-dec employees worked around the clock over a weekend to develop prototypes of needed supplies. Over the course of just over a week, the company has converted several of their manufacturing areas to produce PPE for other health and emergency responder systems in the local area.

In their ongoing response to the COVID-19 health crisis, Legacy Health has a critical need for other personal protective equipment, as well as monetary contributions for a COVID-19 Response Fund. For information on how you can help, visit www.legacyhealthgiving.org/covid-19

A-dec reports considerable challenges with obtaining the quantities of raw materials needed to manufacture these products. The company is actively looking for partners in both the public and private sector to support their efforts during this global emergency.

About Legacy Health
Legacy Health is a locally owned, nonprofit health system driven by our mission to improve the health of those around us. We offer a unique blend of health services – from wellness and urgent care to dedicated children’s care and advanced medical centers – to care for patients of all ages when and where they need us across the Portland/Vancouver metro area and mid-Willamette Valley. With an eye toward a healthier community, our partnerships tackle vital issues such as housing and mental health. Legacy strives to help everyone live healthier and better lives, with the vision of being essential to the health of the region. For more information, visit www.legacyhealth.org.

About A-dec, Inc.
A-dec is one of the largest privately-owned dental equipment manufacturers in the United States. We are recognized as a global leader in the dental space and are committed to our mission of providing a quality environment where people work together for the betterment of dentistry worldwide. A-dec has over 1,300 employees globally, with manufacturing facilities in Newberg, Oregon, Fenton, Missouri, and HangZhou, China. A-dec markets its manufactured dental products, including dental chairs, delivery systems, dental lights, dental furniture, and mechanical room air compressors, vacuums, and water control valves. For more information, visit www.a-dec.com.

Testing for COVID in the Neighborhood

By Sam Wilson

Drive up Covid-19 testing by Dr. Kat onsit at Oasis of Change. Photo credit Sam Wilson

Matt Thrasher woke up one morning in early June feeling ill. He suspected food poisoning and called his boss at a bathroom surface refinishing company, where he works as a technician. The company relayed the message to Thrasher’s customer for the day, for whom he was tasked with detailing a tub and shower he had begun the day prior. Out of an abundance of caution, the clients asked that he get tested for COVID-19 before doing the work. His boss agreed, which is how he wound up parallel parked in his company truck on the 2000 block of North Williams Avenue, swirling a non-cotton swab around each of his nostrils.

Thrasher had been referred to Dr. Kat Lopez Sankey, 37, who runs a private member practice office in the basement of Oasis of Change, a community center on North Williams Avenue. Lopez began offering drive-up COVID-19 tests in early April, soon after the FDA began allowing the less invasive nasal swabs for sample collection, and still when the flatness of our curves was yet to be known. She anticipated a large demand for people looking for answers and planned on hiring employees to assist with the rush. She ordered a sign to be printed offering the service for $150, a price she settled on after weighing the many unknown factors. But the rush never came. 

Sankey began her private practice a year ago, distraught by the “insurance-industrial complex” after five years in an integrative medicine clinic. Her clients now pay $100 a month for “unlimited access” via office visits, emails, phone calls, or texts. The membership fee is out of pocket, although some insurance companies refund the cost. Her clients visit from around the Portland area, ranging from families to the elderly, but all have come by way of word of mouth. “My type of medicine doesn’t actually work very well in an insurance model,” she notes. “It’s not lucrative to spend a long thoughtful time with people with multiple follow-up calls and being accessible to them all the time. None of that is reimbursed by insurance.” 

When the coronavirus began keeping people indoors, Lopez saw less of her patients but also heard from them less as well. “I initially thought that because of the pandemic, there would be more sick people and I would be useful,” she said. “But instead, society just kind of shut down.”

It was surprising, too, that more people were not trying to get tested. Since she started offering them, Lopez has administered 13 drive-in tests to the public, all of which have been negative, and believes mixed messages have discouraged more people from getting tests. “I think there was a misunderstanding of how many swabs and tubes existed, and there was a mindset of conservation for those who were important and it was hard to know how inundated we would be,” she said. “An asymptomatic person with no exposures who’s not a healthcare worker still can’t get tested. Anywhere. Except for me or if their doctor wants to do it.” Lopez also acknowledged a Walgreens in Hillsboro began testing asymptomatic people with no exposures in late May.

As labs have become more streamlined with COVID-19 testing, Lopez has smoothed her process as well. She has settled on using LabCorp to process the tests she administers. They charge $52 per test, usually picking up the swabs within a half-hour of the sample being collected, and their results come in a few days at most. As such, Lopez has been steadily lowering her price, although the sign she had ordered at the beginning of April had only recently arrived.

As she sat in the sunny garden adjacent to Oasis of Change in early June, Lopez reflected that she should be doing the test for free, with insurance. Without insurance, the LabCorp fee would still need to be covered by the person getting tested. She had, after all, an abundance of swabs and sterile tubes, just waiting for samples. “It’s very rewarding. People are really emotional about it,” Lopez said of the peace of mind she sees when someone does a test. 

For Matt Thrasher, it was a simple process he was more than glad to do. “Look, we’re going through a pandemic. I feel like more people should get this done,” he said. Three days after Thrasher handed his swab to Lopez from his truck window, he got an email with his results. Negative.

To schedule a test with Dr. Kat Lopez Sankey, visit covidtestpdx.com.

Dr. Kat Lopez Sankey who offers Covid-19 testing at Oasis of Change. Photo credit Sam Wilson