Stark truths often come most into focus in a crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has once more laid bare the stark reality of being members of a minority community without the resources so many others take for granted. As a reverend, I’ve officiated at and attended the funerals of too many struck down by this grim virus. We have laid too many of our brothers and sisters to rest because they were on the front lines.
All across this nation, African Americans are disproportionally bearing the brunt of infections and deaths from COVID-19. In the City of St. Louis, as of May 21, 71 of the 109 deaths and 1,131 of the 1,744 cases were black people. That means 65.1% of the deaths and 64.8% of the cases of COVID-19 were African Americans, when we form only 45.9% of the city’s population.
The negligence of our government in not providing equal access to affordable healthcare has left many in our community weakened by the underlying conditions that have increased their risk of the virus developing into a more acute case.
Also, we constitute many of the front-line and essential employees staffing our hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, delivery services, transportation, sanitation and the post office. There is no option of sheltering at home when losing your income can mean the loss of that home and the “essential” nature of your job compels you to work.
The injustice and inequity exposed by the pandemic cannot be allowed to exist. We won’t go back. We must move forward. The steps forward are before us.
We must pass Medicaid expansion in Missouri. Supporters have collected enough signature for it to be on the ballot this year, most likely in August. We must join our surrounding states and close the gap in bringing healthcare to tens of thousands of people who currently fall in the coverage gap – they earn too much money to currently qualify for Medicare but not enough to afford quality private insurance.
The State of Missouri must stockpile enough personal protective equipment (PPE) so that every front-line worker can be provided with protection free-of-charge if there is another COVID-19 surge this summer or fall. And also have a long-range plan to stockpile is essential PPE at the state level for any future health emergency as the federal stockpile proved inadequate in this pandemic.
We must bring safer mail-in voting to Missouri for all, with every voter mailed a ballot request and drop restrictions on absentee voting permanently.
We must address insecurity in food and essential household products with continued cooperation between the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, churches, and public and private funders. We have seen people come together to provide for God’s children given the high unemployment rate in the wake of this pandemic. We cannot return to complacency when this storm is past. We must continue to feed those in most need.
We must make sure that the population most at-risk has priority access to a COVID-19 vaccine if one proves to work. We must make sure that anyone who needs the vaccine can get it, regardless of their ability to pay.
These are the first steps forward. The first steps are essential to move us forward, because we won’t go back!
Reverend Darryl Gray (D-St. Louis) is a candidate for state representative in the 77th House District.