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Hartford coronavirus measures aimed at racial disparities

April 25, 2020 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The city of Hartford is moving to increase testing for the coronavirus, offer free transportation to testing appointments and launch a community education campaign to lessen the impact on black, Hispanic and low-income residents, who have been hit disproportionately hard in communities of color across the country.

About 820 city residents have tested positive for the virus and about 72 have died as of Friday, but Mayor Luke Bronin said the true scope of the local outbreak is unknown because of the lack of widespread testing.

“One devastating reality of the coronavirus is that communities of color have been hardest hit, both in terms of health outcomes and economic impact,” Bronin said. “Right now, we need to do everything we can to slow the spread of coronavirus in our community.”

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Hartford County in recent days has begun seeing hospitalizations for COVID-19 decline, while two counties closer to New York, Fairfield and New Haven, saw an earlier leveling off. Daily death totals in the three counties, however, continue to increase.

Across the U.S., African Americans are far more vulnerable to the virus because of a history of systemic racism and inequity in access to health care and economic opportunity. An Associated Press analysis has shown that about 42% of Americans who have died from COVID-19 were black, while African Americans account for roughly 21% of the total population in the areas covered by the analysis.

Hartford historically has had higher rates of asthma, diabetes and other chronic illnesses compared with other cities and towns in the state, putting residents at higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19. More than 80% of residents are black or Hispanic.

State officials and leaders in other cities also have taken action to blunt the virus’s impact on minority communities. The state also is focused on increasing testing in urban areas, has expanded health services and has put a temporary moratorium on evictions of renters for not being able to pay their rent.

New Haven has set up walk-in coronavirus testing centers in two hard-hit neighborhoods in addition to two drive-through sites. Bridgeport has focused on social distancing mandates that have been stricter than in other cities, including an early requirement for people to wear masks in essential businesses and a recommended 8 p.m. curfew that the city has pushed aggressively.

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Hartford area community leaders and activists say city residents are facing a variety of problems because of the pandemic. Many have lost their jobs and don’t have money for rent or food. Many haven’t been able to get basic supplies because of a lack of grocery stores in the city. And many work in essential jobs such as health care, public transportation and grocery stores, putting them at higher risk.

“Those who are on the margins, black and brown communities in Hartford, they are really struggling,” said the Rev. Dr. John Selders, pastor of Amistad United Church of Christ.

There has also been talk within the black community that people of color are being treated differently, left out and even ignored during the outbreak, said Cornell Lewis, a longtime community activist.

“The main thing is people don’t have access to resources ... and as a result it’s hitting segments of the community hard,” he said.

In Hartford, for example, about 40% of residents don’t have access to a car. That’s why city officials say free transportation will be offered to any resident with an appointment to get tested for the coronavirus.

Bronin also said Hartford HealthCare plans to launch its first mobile test site in the city next week.

The city will also be conducting outreach to families who have confirmed cases of the virus, as well as those with suspected cases. Medical students from the University of Connecticut will be helping with that effort.

Hartford also is putting together a public education campaign in English and Spanish that will promote social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing, as well as provide information on health services and other resources.

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