COVID19 Vulnerabilities Remain and Require Continued Public Health Access and Assistance

Contact:  Alejandra Ibañez

               executive director

                  aibanez@latinopolicyforum.org

(Chicago) March 29, 2022 –   Illinois Unidos strongly supports actions that maintain the current health and safety protocols that are in place. The current national and global health indicators confirm why COVID19 mitigation actions must continue. The United States has recorded nearly 980,000 COVID-related deaths. Health and medical experts maintain that three COVID vaccine doses are needed to provide the best protection against the virus. Yet, only about half of those eligible for boosters have received them, a proportion that is even lower in Black and Latinx communities. 

The federal government recently announced reduced public access to free testing sites, vaccines, and treatment services due to the lack of funds for ongoing mitigation efforts. Most recently, the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) stopped accepting COVID-related testing and treatment claims and vaccine administration claims from uninsured individuals. 

These actions are a setback and significant blow to low-wage workers, their families, and the under- and uninsured. Without these vital federal health resources, urban and rural communities of color (already experiencing COVID transmission at a disproportionate rate) are least likely to have health insurance or a medical home. These communities are again susceptible and at the receiving end of unequal health policies.  

Moreover, this action will create a financial barrier for the most vulnerable families, forcing them to pay out-of-pocket for medical bills. The inability to pay medical and health care bills is one of the leading causes of U.S. bankruptcies even before COVID. This decision also places COVID long-haulers (e.g., individuals in recovery from COVID) in a precarious health situation. Without funds for medical support and financial assistance, life-saving therapies (e.g., monoclonal antibodies) will disappear, and chronic disabilities could place long-haulers in precarious life-and-death situations.  

Community hospitals, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), and individual providers, will have to make the difficult decision to either turn away uninsured patients or absorb the costs of testing, treatment, and vaccination services. Many of these community public health sites already lack sufficient resources for testing, contact tracing, and vaccination, so the decision to absorb these costs will further jeopardize their financial ability to provide quality health and medical care. 

Three million uninsured persons in the United States will not have access to COVID testing or care. Eliminating testing, vaccination, and medical assistance is counterintuitive and goes against the evidence before us: the new COVID19 omicron subvariant, BA.2, is highly transmissible and already present in China, Australia, and parts of Europe.   

Evidence of a COVID resurgence, including in the U.S. Illinois Regions 10 and 11, which includes Chicago, closing accessible and free testing sites, potential wastewater contamination, and transmission, reiterate that this is not the time to decrease or end public health services. A misleading public narrative and a false self of complacency cannot alter the facts. COVID remains a present danger in the Latino community and all vulnerable communities of color.

Fortunately, the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services has indicated that the state’s COVID19 program for the uninsured will continue. Our state has been a trailblazer by making the program available regardless of citizenship, income, or immigration status. Notwithstanding this responsible and responsive decision, cautionary measures must remain in place.

Illinois Unidos calls for all existing public health and safety measures to remain in place and for expanded efforts where appropriate; these include:

  • ongoing and intentional vaccination of children who are five years and older, and youth- and elderly-focused vaccination strategies;  
  • engage community health workers/promotoras to reach those who are not vaccinated; 
  • increase access to vaccines, mobile vaccination efforts, and in-home vaccination testing and vaccination kits;    
  • maintain current funding to expand access to vaccines for the uninsured; and,
  • Develop and implement a bilingual communication campaign informing where individuals who lack health insurance coverage can go for testing or treatment. This campaign can stress the acquisition of home COVID-19 test kits and the importance of connecting with a health care provider when people are experiencing flu-like symptoms, so they can confirm the positive diagnosis from the home kit and receive early treatment.

It behooves all sectors, and public leaders and government agencies, in particular, to proceed with urgency to ensure that Latinos and other communities of color are not at the receiving end of a COVID resurgence or have little to marginal access to vital public health services. Addressing decades of health disparities begins with a singular and straightforward step: equal access and equitable inclusion. To do no less again raises questions about the nation’s public health system and the health disparities it continues to perpetuate.  

Illinois Unidos is a statewide coalition of Latino health professionals, representatives of community-based organizations, and elected and appointed officials responding to the COVID19 pandemic. Illinois Unidos engages in advocacy, community education, public policy actions, testing, and vaccination efforts, to address the devastating impact COVID19 has wrought in the state’s Latino communities. Please visit  http://illinoisunidos.com/ for further information.   ##