COVID Response Opens Doors to Overcoming Health Disparities

As COVID-19 swept across the country, public health officials scrambled to reduce its impact by identifying and isolating people who had tested positive for the disease. The plan was for a simple phone call to inform the person of a positive test and tell them they should stay home and away from others.

But those calls were often far from simple. There were language barriers. There were trust issues. There were those who didn’t believe that COVID-19 was a real threat. There were those living paycheck to paycheck who couldn’t afford to take days off. There were those who didn’t have a way to get food, diapers, and other necessities, even if they wanted to cooperate. 

The callers found themselves embroiled in the fact that public health is often not just about health. Instead, to succeed, it must address a complex intersection of health concerns, cultural and religious beliefs, the demands of daily living, economic constraints and other factors that complicate public health initiatives, factors that exist even in a pandemic whose severity, for some, meant health concerns should be the first — if not the only — factor. For JSI staff, this was familiar territory.

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