Phyllis Johnson

On April 16, 2020 the president’s administration outlined a three-phase approach to reopening the nation as the spread of coronavirus slows. This plan includes a 14-day sustained decrease in cases and pre-crisis hospital conditions. In order to capture a decline in the virus infection rate and exposure, we will need an increase in both testing and testing sites to determine active cases and tracing of exposed cases.

On Saturday, April 18, the first, local walk-in COVID-19 test site opened at the Urban League in Ft. Lauderdale with the capacity to test 200 clients daily. I applaud this opening, but we need more testing sites and data collection before South Florida should reconsider reopening nonessential businesses.

The Florida State Medical Association (FSMA), which represents Black physicians, under the direction of president, Cheryl Holder, M.D., developed the following recommendations to facilitate combating the spread of this virus.

As a trusted voice within the community, the Florida State Medical Association, must be included as a stakeholder in the planning of the COVID-19 response.; There should be more robust data collecting and reporting which should include race, timely and accurate data collection on the number of people tested with their results, which will allow us to alert vulnerable citizens, contain and prevent the infection spread.

Increase access to testing by expanding the number of testing sites in Black neighborhoods. Specifically, we strongly recommend rapid testing to ensure immediate response to contain the spread among family members and community. Update testing guidelines to include symptomatic individuals regardless of age. Include walk-up testing at all testing sites currently in operation. Expand mobile testing units that will be a fully equipped mobile unit with the ability to accept walk up patients and allow outside testing.

The unit can be deployed to different communities every day. Screening will be done onsite for testing where doctor’s referrals are not necessary; design culturally and linguistically appropriate communication and education for all Black on COVID infection risk, treatment and end of life preparation, using media outlets and personalities servicing Black communities (Haitian, English-speaking and Caribbean, newspapers, radio and TV programs consumed by Black, billboards and social media).

Funding should be allocated to ensure prime time programming, including the engagement and funding for community organizations to educate the community on COVID-19.; personal protective equipment for Black physicians, healthcare, environmental, non-clinical, and other low wage workers.; Maintain viability of small private physician’s practices and federally qualified health centers, including frontline support staff that provide healthcare in the Black community.

Certain groups are agitated and are participating in rallies in an attempt to get the attention of the local government to re-open the county with no significant decline in the virus infection rate. This would be a reckless act. We must be smarter as a community.

Yes, we want our lives back. Yes, we want to re-open businesses that are familiar to us. Yes, we want everyone in our community to have a fruitful life, to be able to live and take care of their families, go to the gym, go to the movies, to have family and social gatherings and appropriately mourn the death of our family members. Our local government must be strategic and smart about reopening our communities.

We need to verify that our local government will make sure that our counties, our communities, our people are safe. We elected these officers and we need to let our local officials know as a community that we want a safe environment for our families. Our elected officials should not succumb to political pressure or agitators but guide their decision to effectively and safely open our communities for the well-being of all.

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