Social Justice Advocates Call for Big Moves to Ease the Blow of Coronavirus

March 20, 2020
Austin Chronicle

Advocates from a large number of local social justice and advocacy organizations are calling on city and county leaders to step up and help those most marginalized in the community amid the escalating coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter sent on Monday, March 16, to Austin Mayor Steve Adler, City Council, the Travis County Commissioners Court, and other officials, the advocates offered an extensive and comprehensive list of demands that target public education; welfare; housing; worker, immigrant, and disability rights; medical services; child­ care; elder care; law enforcement; courts; and jails.

Among their recommendations, the groups urged city officials to take a "firm stance" on social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19 – limiting operations and hours of businesses like bars and restaurants to keep those most susceptible among us safe, as the city and county announced on Tuesday. "We know from other major cities that Austin's community outbreaks are more likely to occur within our most vulnerable populations," said Selena Xie, president of the Austin EMS Employees Association, during a (virtual) press conference Monday morning. "Given that we face an unprecedented situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, community advocates believe it warrants an unprecedented, swift, and necessary response from local and county authorities with the power to save and protect as many of the most vulnerable people as possible."

With ICUs already at limited capacity, Xie expects critical care transports to increase and urges local leaders to ensure patient treatment supplies like respirators, IV medication pumps, updated ventilators, and portable ultrasound units are well stocked – equipment that hasn't been available to EMS, she said. On Tuesday, Austin Interim Public Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott – who is filling that post while also continuing to serve as EMS medical director – told reporters the city and county are working to ensure "adequate training, adequate personal protective equipment, and adequate access to testing" to EMS and other first responders.

Release for the Prisoners

The crisis is especially daunting for those in overcrowded jails, prisons, and immigrant detention centers, the groups stress. "We know that medical care is less than adequate and there are many deaths in these facilities every year, and in times of crisis, conditions of confinement only worsen," said Claudia Muñoz, acting executive co-director at Grassroots Leadership. Immigrants should receive health care regardless of status and be protected from interaction with ICE and CBP when accessing those services, she said.