Orange County Health Department Extends Our Support to All Our Residents During this Difficult Time
“Staying at Home” can be difficult. We stand in solidarity with those who cannot visibly be themselves during this difficult time. You can be yourself at OCHD: We are in this together!
Questions about COVID-19? Call (919) 245-6111 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. Interpreters are available upon request.
Need to talk to the medical or dental clinic at OCHD? Call (919) 245-2400 during regular business hours.
Looking for community resources during the COVID pandemic? Visit our Community Resources page.
Orange County Health Department does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, national origin, race, or sex.
Viruses Do Not Discriminate...But Our Country Does: The Black Community and COVID-19
Equity Series: Employment and Health
Why Covid-19 is Ravaging Black America
The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has had devastating effects on people globally, nationally, and locally. There has also been a lot of discussion on who or which communities have been affected at higher rates by the virus. In Orange County to date, there have been 175 positive cases and 3 deaths. On Monday, April 13th, the Orange County Health Department began publishing demographic data regarding coronavirus cases.
The department will be writing a series of articles to help our community understand the underlying conditions that have historically impacted communities of color and why no one should be surprised that communities of color are once again vulnerable to a major public health crisis. The department has a deep understanding of how the racialized history of the U.S. has been detrimental to everyone, particularly the black community. Institutional and systemic racism in policies, practices, and procedures in education and employment have left communities of color exposed to many difficult barriers and COVID-19 is no exception. Without this context, the fear is that we will interpret COVID-19 disparities as being caused by the individual behaviors of black people instead of the structural racism that drives these health disparities; the so-called “blame the victim” phenomena.
Currently, Orange County’s positive cases are small in number compared to neighbors like Durham and Wake Counties and a 30-40% discrepancy in racial demographic data (23% discrepancy for NC) means at this time we cannot confirm whether or not one racial group fares worse than another. The Orange County Health Department has been on a journey to becoming an equitable organization for three years and due to these efforts, the department understands and acknowledges that marginalized communities are exceptionally vulnerable to COVID-19.
COVID-19 in Orange County, the rest of the state, nation, and the globe has caused several major shifts in our economy. Many businesses and organizations are either closed, have the resources for staff to work from home, or are considered an essential service in which they cannot close (eg. healthcare, post office, grocery stores, sanitation, fast food, etc.).
Understand, that those who are privileged to be able to stay home during this pandemic, experience less risk because they are at home and may only expose themselves briefly for exercise outdoors or runs for essential items. Those who work in essential services are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 because of the increased exposure to other individuals who may have tested positive for COVID-19 or may not know they are positive. This report highlights how people of color are over-represented in low wage jobs that make up many of the essential worker categories such as supermarket workers, home health care aides, aides in long term care facilities and trash collectors.
There are many reasons that people of color are over-represented in low wage jobs; many of which have to do with the structural and institutional racism of the education and employment systems seen in most businesses and organizations locally, statewide, and nationally. Segregation in the education system didn’t end until 1954 with the passing of the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision and it wasn’t until 1968 (14 years later) that schools were integrated in Orange County. So when white people had hundreds of years to access higher education institutions and resources, black people experienced the hardships of integration including less access to advanced courses, less access to teachers who look like them, less resources to prepare for standardized testing designed for white children to succeed, and less guidance to attend higher learning institutions. But discrimination didn’t end with integration in schools. Many schools still remain majority segregated due to practices such as redlining. In 2018, 62% of white people in Orange County had a Bachelor’s degree or higher compared to only 26% of black people, 75.2% of Asians, and 24% of Hispanic or Latino people1. This huge education disparity gives white people access to higher-wage jobs, positions of power in organizations, and better health insurance. Having access to these things during COVID-19 is a major factor in being able to stay protected from the virus. Given the racial history of education and the consequences racism had in the black community, many black people went into trade or acquired jobs that do not require a college degree. Jobs at the post office, transportation, or solid waste has served as a pathway for middle class living; other jobs such as those in fast food or retail have kept black people in poverty and potentially exposed to the virus.
According to McKinsey and Company, Black Americans’ economic circumstances can elevate their odds of contracting the coronavirus. Despite shelter-in-place and stay-home orders, only 20% of black workers can work from home, compared with 30% of white workers and 37% of Asian workers. Analysis reveals that black Americans are overrepresented in all jobs that are considered essential during the pandemic: 15% of that entire workforce, and 20% of the workforce in nine of the ten lowest-wage, high-contact essential service occupations (Exhibit 2). In addition, representation in front-line healthcare occupations is especially high: black people are at least a third of nursing assistants, orderlies, and psychiatric aides. Black workers are putting their lives and health on the line for goods and services that matter to society, particularly in healthcare.
Other historical practices that keep many people of color working in essential jobs include discrimination in hiring practices. Hiring discrimination against a person of color’s name, zip code, or historically black college degree has kept even those with college degrees from being able to obtain a high-wage job. These factors may be why black people in Orange County have the highest rate of unemployment at 8.1%, compared to white people, 3.8%, Asians, 3.7%, and those of Hispanic or Latino origin, 3.6%2.
In this novel time in our country, we need to remember the past. This is the time to acknowledge our racial history and the effects it continues to have on the outcomes of black and brown people. How we respond to this novel virus and how we move forward when this is over should be planned and executed using a racial equity lens. It is time to prioritize communities of color and to not only include them in decision-making rooms but to lift up their voices in the room. Local government can play a major role by taking the time to listen to the community and prioritizing funding for people of color who have lost jobs, for businesses of color who are struggling to stay afloat, for immigrant and undocumented individuals and others who did not receive stimulus relief, and for our children to continue to get a sound education through technology and internet connection.
There are lots of organizations across the country that are working with an equity lens during this pandemic. The Government Alliance on Race and Equity has developed the COVID-19 Racial Equity Rapid Response: Guidebook For Government in which government departments across the country are contributing resources and best practice information.
19 Ways to Ensure Health Equity for Latinos During (and After) COVID-19
Health equity is where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to live their healthiest life possible. But health inequity remains.
So what can we do? We need to both immediate focus to ease the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on Latinos and people of color, as well as long-term strides to address underlying inequities that are aggravated during this time.
It won’t be easy, or fast. But here’s few ways to push for health equity.
To read Salud America’s "19 Ways to Ensure Health Equity" article in detail, please visit their webpage.
COVID-19 & Race| PolicyLink
People of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and its economic fallout. We are working to make sure that medical care, emergency relief, and longer-term recovery efforts target the people and places in greatest need by advancing an intersectional equity policy agenda for federal, state, and local leaders driven by Principles for a Common-Sense, Street-Smart Recovery, and bringing a sharp focus on the racial implications of the crises through a weekly commentary and media analysis project.
To learn more about resources on equity and COVID-19, visit PolicyLink’s webpage.