Kaiser Health News reports on the threats and political pressure public health officials face as they respond to COVID-19. “Officials who usually work behind the scenes managing everything from immunizations to water quality inspections have found themselves center stage. Elected officials and members of the public who are frustrated with the lockdowns and safety restrictions have at times turned public health workers into politicized punching bags, battering them with countless angry calls and even physical threats. On Thursday, Ohio’s state health director, who had armed protesters come to her house, resigned. The health officer for Orange County, California, quit Monday after weeks of criticism and personal threats from residents and other public officials over an order requiring face coverings in public. As the pressure and scrutiny rise, many more health officials have chosen to leave or been pushed out of their jobs. A review by KHN and The Associated Press finds at least 27 state and local health leaders have resigned, retired or been fired since April across 13 states.” NPR interviewed the former director of the Rio Grande County Public Health Department: “It's very scary. The state of Colorado, over the last several years, has acknowledged how poorly funded the public health infrastructure is nationally and in Colorado. And at the very start of the pandemic - early March - I had some optimism that this would be an opportunity for the broader public to see the value of what public health does and hopefully push for a better system - that we would transform the system. And at this point, I worry that things will be gutted even more and there will be even less willingness to have a strong infrastructure.”
This week, US Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Houston, introduced a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday: “Juneteenth remains the oldest known celebration of slavery's demise," Lee said in [a] statement. "It commemorates freedom while acknowledging the sacrifices and contributions made by courageous African Americans towards making our great nation the more conscious and accepting country that it has become. It was only after that day in 1865, on the heels of the most devastating conflict in our country's history, in the aftermath of a civil war that pitted brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor and threatened to tear the fabric of our union apart forever, that America truly became the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against the Trump administration’s attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “[Chief Justice John Roberts’] low-key ruling was technical — the administration had not provided proper legal justification, he said, for ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented by President Barack Obama eight years ago. It allows qualified enrollees to work, study and remain in the United States on a renewable permit.”
In a decision handed down earlier in the week, the Supreme Court ruled that gay, lesbian, and transgender people are protected from employment discrimination. “We must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear,” Gorsuch wrote. “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
The Fresno Bee reports on how the pandemic has exacerbated inequities of race, immigration status, and poverty in the Central Valley. “As fear gripped communities throughout the central San Joaquin Valley — largely in minority neighborhoods of African Americans, farmworker communities, refugees, elderly, undocumented, working class, disabled — it became clear that these groups were not positioned to withstand the additional hardships which would unfold and would bear the brunt of the devastation. The pandemic exacted its heaviest toll on the traditionally vulnerable communities, exposing already existing gaps of inequality. “The pandemic just laid bare all the inequities and racism that existed and put it on steroids, times 10,” Martinez said. “These problems have long existed.”
Investigative reporting from the Los Angeles Times finds that despite eviction moratoriums put in place as part of COVID-19 response, landlords in predominately Black and Latino communities of South Los Angeles have continued to try to illegal evict tenants. “Despite new anti-eviction rules passed in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, some Los Angeles landlords are still trying to oust tenants by locking them out of their homes, turning off their utilities and deploying other illegal methods, a Times analysis of data from the Los Angeles Police Department has found. In the initial 10 weeks after L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered a temporary moratorium on evictions in mid-March, police responded to more than 290 instances of potential illegal lockouts and utility shutoffs across the city, according to the data. The Times analysis shows that the largest share of those police calls was in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in South L.A. such as Vermont Square, Florence and Watts — the same communities that have faced the greatest health and economic problems from the coronavirus…” The Times also covers the story of Claudia Mendez, a house cleaner who has been facing eviction and intimidation from her landlord, and who, despite a temporary reprieve, “remains worried about her future. She’s two months behind on rent. She no longer has a refrigerator and the landlord removed the sliding doors to the balcony, allowing mosquitoes and flies to come inside the apartment. Still, without work now or in the foreseeable future, Mendez is not sure where else to go. “I can’t pay much rent because I don’t have anything right now,” she said. “In truth, I don’t know what’s going to happen.””
New research shows that half of the world’s population is exposed to increasing levels of air pollution. “According to Science Alert, the consequences of polluted air are more deadly than war, violence and many diseases for much of the world's people. Overall, the World Health Organization has estimated that more than four million deaths annually can be attributed to outdoor air pollution. "While long-term policies to reduce air pollution have been shown to be effective in many regions, notably in Europe and the United States, there are still regions that have dangerously high levels of air pollution, some as much as five times greater than World Health Organization guidelines, and in some countries air pollution is still increasing," study lead author Gavin Shaddick, chair of data science and statistics at the University of Exeter, said in a statement.”
In an article for CalMatters, PI's Lisa Fujie Parks explains how cities can shift funds from policing to preventing violence, using a public health approach. A public health approach:
- “Acknowledges racism and other forms of discrimination. Crucially important to this approach is an acknowledgement that the current situation – in which communities of color face concentrated policing, fewer opportunities and deteriorated community conditions – wasn’t just happenstance. Nor was it the fault of community members themselves. These conditions were created by policies and practices that intentionally marginalized people of color and poor people into neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage.
- Examines community conditions. Our surroundings shape our experiences and behaviors, so successful community safety plans cultivate safety in streets, parks, jobs, schools and elsewhere. This can be achieved through equitable investment and fair lending, affordable housing and anti-displacement policies, living wage employment opportunities, as well as youth mentorship, employment, safe parks, greening vacant lots and reducing alcohol outlet density. Now is not the time to cut funding for youth employment opportunities and recreational activities. These programs have been proven to be successful and should be funded throughout the state.
- Is collaborative. It brings together community members with people who represent health care, schools, parks, housing, social services, foundations, nonprofits and others. Everyone comes to the table as equals. The local public health department can coordinate the work.
- Puts community members in the lead. Too often the people who are most impacted by violence are excluded from decisions about how to prevent and address it. But these are the very people who should have a seat at the head of the table during conversations and decision-making about safety initiatives. They should also have a key role in carrying out the decisions that are made. Hiring community members as “violence interrupters” is another evidence-based strategy for improving community safety.
- Follows the data. It looks at who is most affected by community violence, what’s contributing and what’s working to create safety. When strategies are being developed, they are designed specifically to influence the conditions that are increasing the risk of violence and to support community resilience, according to the data.
- Provides a space for truth-telling and healing from community trauma. Healing as a community is essential to successful community safety efforts. Cities should immediately create spaces for truth-telling, deep listening and caring connection. The establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to address racial injustice is another immediate step that could begin to heal fractures in trust that are generations in the making and build support for pathways forward.”