SAPHA’s Statement on the US Government’s Response to COVID-19
The world has been confronting a global pandemic that is putting our public health infrastructure to the test. In the US, there have been over 823,250 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, April 21st, 2020. Coronavirus disease has particularly affected cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle, among others. The South Asian Public Health Association (SAPHA) is releasing this statement to highlight public health gaps in the US government’s response that have particularly affected Asian American and South Asian American communities.
New York City, which is home to the largest concentration of South Asians in the US, has recorded the greatest number of cases in the country. Neighborhoods with low median incomes have been particularly hard hit. Among them, neighborhoods such as the South Bronx and Queens are home to many South Asian Americans. These areas house many immigrant families living in close quarters with individuals employed in the service industry without telecommuting options. Many of these individuals are subject to employment instability and lack adequate health insurance or access to health care. Undocumented immigrants from our communities face especially harsh economic and healthcare challenges. Healthcare facilities in these neighborhoods are struggling with assisting a huge influx of COVID-19 patients while grappling with shortages of medical equipment and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to safely provide care and ensure staff safety. Countless healthcare workers, including many from our own communities, are tirelessly providing care even at risk to their health.
Across the US, in addition to responding to the disease, Asian American communities are facing the challenge of racist attacks on individuals and businesses. Bigoted language from elected officials has intensified stereotypes and created an atmosphere of fear in the community. There has been no federal response even though over 450 civil rights, social justice, and labor organizations have signed a letter calling on Congress to denounce anti-Asian racism related to COVID-19.
In these unprecedented times, we need to employ novel strategies to ensure the health and well-being of all our communities. As we look past the first spike of this disease and the reported flattening of the curve across many areas in the country in the past few days, opening the economy without adequate plans in place would be detrimental to the health and economy of our communities.
SAPHA stands in solidarity with Asian American and South Asian American communities across the US to demand better investment and care. We express deep sadness at the lives and livelihoods lost as a result of this pandemic. We also convey worry for community members on the frontlines— from grocery stores to healthcare facilities— who are facing avoidable risks to their health.
SAPHA joins the wider public health community, demanding increased testing capacity and resources to meet the PPE shortages in healthcare facilities to respond to the current pandemic. SAPHA also strongly advocates for collecting and reporting disaggregated data by age, race, sex, and socio-economic levels of those who are tested, hospitalized, or lose their lives to COVID-19 to develop appropriate public health and economic resources and policies to better serve our communities.
SAPHA calls on all levels of the federal, state, and local governments to respond to the pandemic with appropriate public health measures that are in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and international recommendations. While this pandemic is a stark reminder of the ongoing inequalities in health in the US, we believe a robust and coordinated response that utilizes existing public health knowledge, resources, and skills has the potential for meaningful and lasting change.
The South Asian Public Health Association (SAPHA) promotes the health and well-being of South Asian communities by advancing the field of South Asian public health through interactions among health professionals and shared resources, focusing on research, education, communication, and advocacy.