City releases COVID-19 racial equity plan

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Black residents of Philadelphia are 50 percent more likely to die from complications of the novel coronavirus, and the highest virus-related death rates in the city are among Hispanics 75 and older.

Racial disparities have been evident, in Philadelphia and elsewhere, since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, the city’s Department of Public Health released its “Coronavirus Interim Racial Equity Plan” in an attempt to eliminate or shrink those inequities.

Increasing the number of testing sites, the creation of a racially-focused virus response team and training health department employees are among the initiatives outlined in the 17-page document.

“Racial inequities in health do not spring from the novel coronavirus,” the plan states. “They are the result of longstanding, structural inequities that are present all around us: in housing, in work, in education, in health care, in our criminal justice system and in our environments.”

“Right now, we need to do everything in our power to ensure that COVID-19 does not further exacerbate existing inequities,” it continues.

The plan was drawn up by a diverse group of stakeholders, according to a news release.

Officials say they have already taken steps by providing funding to groups serving people of color, including the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium and Esperanza, and hiring a diverse contact tracing team.

Of the 114 people brought on as tracers, 52 percent are Black; 28 percent are white; 9 percent are Asian; and 6 percent are Latino, according to the plan.

Philadelphia is nearing a total of 30,000 COVID-19 cases, and the city’s Black population represents nearly half of those infections. Black residents’ positive test rate is more than twice that reported by white residents, according to health department data.

Black and Hispanic residents are much more likely to be hospitalized as a result of the virus, the data indicates.

Those outcomes could be because Black and Hispanic residents are more likely to be poor and live in crowded conditions, the report said. Poorer residents are also more likely to have jobs that don’t allow them to work from home.

Black and Hispanic residents are also overrepresented in congregate care settings, like jails and homeless shelters, where it’s hard to practice social distancing, and have higher rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, which put people at greater risk for severe symptoms, according to the plan.

In other COVID-19-related news, officials reported 500 new cases, a cumulative total from Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

The health department said the large number is “at least partially due to expanded testing.” The positivity rate, a key factor in tracking the spread of the virus, remains steady at around 5 percent, officials said.

Two additional fatalities have been reported related to COVID-19, raising the city’s death toll to 1,678.

SEPTA announced Monday that it is partnering with local philanthropic organizations to create a fund to help transit employees affected by the virus.

A spokesperson for the authority said the effort was “launched in large part due to feedback from employees who wanted a way to help the spouses, children and other loved ones of co-workers who have died or were severely ill.”

At least 7 SEPTA employees have died from virus-related complications, and 317 have tested positive.

SEPTA is partnering with the Philadelphia Foundation and the Delaware Valley Regional Economic Development Fund on the program. The latter organization contributed $10,000 to kickstart the fund.

Members of the public and transit employees can donate online at or by sending a check made out to the Philadelphia Foundation (with “SEPTA Disaster Relief Fund” in the memo line) to PO BOX 826728, Philadelphia, PA 19182-6728.



Metro is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly

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