The following Letter to the Editor was written by John Liss, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority, a statewide racial justice and pro-democracy organization based in Arlandria.
Perhaps no greater community illustrates the tone-deaf nature of ignoring the most vulnerable communities than Arlandria/Chirilagua.
This Alexandria neighborhood is primarily Latino, and as of May 7, 55% of the 572 tests given were positive. The rate of infection in this community of 16,000 is equivalent to global hot spot areas such as Queens, New York, Wuhan, China and Milan, Italy. Only concerted government action will control this outbreak, save lives and prevent
even further community spread.
In Alexandria, 39% of positive cases of COVID-19 and 38% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are Hispanic/Latinx, yet they only comprise 17% of the population. Chirilagua, the heart of the Latinx community, is among the hardest hit, with at least 50 families suffering from the virus (as of the end of April). Many immigrants are uninsured, and without access to quality and affordable health care they may not obtain medical care.
We are calling on Governor Northam to provide at least 2,000 tests per week until we can begin to accurately assess and address the spread of the virus, housing solutions to safely isolate, as well as the medical needs of this neighborhood.
Before the governor considers reopening the state he needs to leave the governor’s mansion and actually see what is happening here. Without thousands of tests, access to isolated housing, and medical treatment, Chirilagua residents face more illness and for some, death.
Reopening does not mean there is no longer a threat of getting sick – it means that if you do become sick, our hospitals will be able to take care of you, if you have health insurance, of course. Many Virginians will not have the option for testing or treatment, as they are uninsured or underinsured, and will then have to make a choice on paying for a test or paying for necessary bills.
To add insult to injury, not only are underserved communities like Chirilagua being willfully ignored, according to yesterday’s article in The Atlantic, officials in Virginia are “blending the results of two different types of coronavirus test in order to report a more favorable result to the public.”
After public outcry, earlier today the state did disaggregate this data. However, earlier this week the state briefly stopped reporting out tests and positive results by ZIP code. This information is important to identify hot spots that need more testing, and helps to target coordinated housing and health services.
Data transparency, access to testing, isolated housing, and treatment for ALL Virginians are essential to ensuring that it is safe for us all. In short, sending some Virginians back to work before it is safe to do so is irresponsible, callous, and will lead to more illness and death.
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Staff photo by James Cullum