Modified: April 7, 2020 7:08am
Dear 14215 Constituent;
From the 1932 ‘Tuskegee Experiment’ to the current cancer cluster on the East Side, we know that people of color and low income communities have suffered when it comes to fair and equitable healthcare. I am more determined than ever to address the factors that have led to this week’s revelation that Legislative District 2 has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Buffalo.
As of Sunday, six out of 27 COVID-19 deaths in Erie County were Black residents. This equates to 22% of the deaths. Erie County’s population is 14% African American. As the Erie County Legislator representing zip codes 14215 and 14211, which are two of the hardest-hit COVID-19 zip codes in Buffalo and our county, I have made it my top priority to address the positive cases in these zip codes. As the Erie County Department of Health does not have access to all of the data showing the tests that have been conducted in these zip codes, I am seeking the data from the New York State Department of Health. The County Executive and Health Commissioner have noted that many of the positive cases in 14215 may be because many residents in that zip code work in healthcare and are first responders and they have received priority for testing (and many have tested positive for COVID-19).
At the same time, we have to admit a harsh reality. The factors which determine one’s ability to survive this disease are the same factors we know disproportionately affect our poor, inner city communities of color. 14215 is the tenth-poorest zip code in Erie County. The East Side suffers chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease at higher rates than other areas of the city. Given that 37% of Buffalo residents are African-Americans, we are at a greater risk during this pandemic, especially those persons who are on dialysis. Therefore, the death rates from COVID-19 are likely to be higher here than in the rest of the county.
I am working to get a COVID-19 test site established on the East Side, but the main obstacle remains not enough tests being available across the County and the priority still remains with testing first responders and healthcare employees. The Erie County Health Department’s next priority for testing will be seriously-ill people in the community with underlying health conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes who are most at-risk for COVID-19. With the expected receipt of $159 million in federal economic recovery funds from the federal government under the CARES Act, this will help to speed up the purchase, acquisition and deployment of tests in 14215 and my district.
Finally, I have asked representatives from the Erie County Department of Health to attend a special meeting of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday, April 9th at 11 am to meet with Health Department representatives about COVID-19. I will be receiving an update on the status of the County’s response to this pandemic, and will ask for a plan to respond to the needs of the residents of communities who are or will suffer at a higher rate during this crisis.