Gary-Webb on the new Pittsburgh coalition tackling racial inequities and the pandemic


New Pittsburgh Coalition Tackles Racial Inequities and the Pandemic

NPR's WESA - Black deaths from COVID-19 are higher than white deaths due in part to institutional racism and social impediments, such as poverty. The Pittsburgh-based Black COVID-19 Equity Coalition is a group of public health researchers, business people, and elected officials working to address those factors as a way to secure better health and economic outcomes for the black community during the pandemic.

One issue the coalition is working to understand is why state and national data show an uptick in fatalities during 2020, but not all of these deaths are attributed to COVID-19. “There’s either potentially an under-reporting issue, or there are other things that are probably related to COVID that’s not being captured as COVID,” said coalition member Tiffany Gary-Webb, an epidemiologist at Pitt Public Health. “It could be people who were symptomatic for it, and didn't get hospitalized and they never got tested. And maybe died in their homes.”

The coalition is also working to address getting black Pittsburghers trained to work as contact tracers and testing access. Gary-Webb, who also chairs the epidemiology section of the American Public Health Association, said data scientists affiliated with the coalition were part of the push to get coronavirus testing at the federally qualified health centers in Allegheny County.

“What we did is try to map out where we thought communities of need would be. We use things like the percentage of black families in poverty and even just percentage of blacks in the county," she said. "Then we overlaid where the federally qualified health centers were located, which, you know, they're located in communities of need and found that we could really increase access to testing with that model."

Ideally, said Gary-Webb, this coalition will exist long after the pandemic abates and can help build a medical system that creates better outcomes for Black people in western Pennsylvania.

Coalition members with a Pitt Public Health affiliation include not only Gary-Webb, but also fellow epidemiology faculty member Dara Mendez, BCHS's Noble Maseru, director of Pitt's Center for Health Equity and associate dean for diversity and inclusion, and alumnus Mario Browne (BCHS '05), director of Pitt's Office of Health Sciences Diversity who remarked, “I will say that as a longtime member of the Office of Health Equity advisory board in the PA Health Department, we can think of ways to have Western PA’s activities and needs to be amplified on the state level. Most resources and attention is focused on the east coast and mid-state.” 

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From New Pittsburgh Coalition Tackles Racial Inequities and the Pandemic by SARAH BODEN / WESA • JUN 8, 2020

About the Black COVID-19 Equity Coalition 

The Black COVID-19 Equity Coalition is comprised of a group of physicians, researchers, epidemiologists, public health and health care practitioners, social scientists, community funders, and government officials concerned about addressing COVID-19 in vulnerable populations. We aim to ensure an equitable response to the coronavirus pandemic, based on socio-economic and culturally relevant data, that produces culturally relevant responses that will reduce health inequities and improve health and well-being in general. Thus, we are working to establish a community-oriented, primary and preventive health care infrastructure that will be better able to respond and meet the emerging health needs of the communities of color. 


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