Rep. Adrian Madaro on COVID in EB: “Many working-class Eastie residents don’t have the privilege of working from home.”

Some people might imply that residents are to blame for not following guidelines closely enough. This is wrong. Our community isn’t worse at wearing masks/social distancing, or taking fewer public health precautions than any other.

That’s not why our rates are higher than the suburbs.

Our COVID infection rates are higher because our communities are systemically more vulnerable to the spread of this disease. This was true at the beginning of the shutdown, and it has become truer as MA has progressed through the phases of Reopening.

Many working-class Eastie residents don’t have the privilege of working from home. Their jobs require them to go out to work, and in most cases they’re interacting with coworkers or members of the public through jobs in the service industry – construction, cleaning, restaurants, etc. While the shutdown meant some (but not all) of these service workers were staying home, our state’s reopening means that even more are back to work out in the public now. This means Eastie residents & surrounding communities have an increased risk of COVID exposure and infection.

And housing is expensive and hard to find. Most Eastie workers live in apartments that are full of family or roommates, and short on space. People share rooms. When everyone’s living together in a small space, there aren’t many opportunities to social distance. This means that when a worker gets sick, they have nowhere to quarantine. This puts the rest of their household at higher risk of contracting COVID. Reports indicate that this kind of “family spread” is one of the top ways that COVID is spreading in East Boston.

Residents in high-risk communities like Eastie are more prone to COVID due to health issues that are the result of longstanding environmental burdens. We are Environmental Justice communities with a long history of air pollution. Eastie residents have long suffered from elevated rates of respiratory illnesses, such as asthma & COPD, a legacy of living next to an international airport and a major highway. COVID is a respiratory illness. It’s no surprise our residents are at an increased risk.

Earlier this year, Attorney General Maura Healey released a report on the role of environmental pollution in higher rates of COVID infection in low-income communities of color. It’s no coincidence that these communities remain the hardest-hit now.

So what do we need to do? First, we need increased resources and assistance from the state. Gov. Baker has recently set the stage for this by designating high-risk communities, and pledging additional aid.
It is also critical that the state expand access to isolation sites in at-risk communities for workers who cannot quarantine at home without putting their families at risk.Isolation sites will help reduce family spread – a major component of COVID infection rates in East Boston.
Finally, we need Emergency Paid Sick Leave. Our sick leave system was not designed for a global pandemic. Workers should not have to choose between their health and economic security. Many are forced to continue working even if exposed to COVID because they need to pay the bills.
We have an obligation to help our most vulnerable residents who have been systemically more exposed to COVID infection.
Massachusetts is only as safe as our most at-risk communities. If we want to stop the spread, we need to ensure equity in the fight against COVID-19.
This aid should include:
• Increased testing and tracing capacity
• Priority for federal funding aid
• More PPE and disinfectant resources
• Increased and improved public health messaging and communications
• Improved enforcement measures.
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East Boston has the highest COVID infection rate in Boston. Last week it was 7.9%. This was over 4 times the state average. It was almost 50% higher than the second-highest neighborhood. Many cities around us are seeing the same or higher. Let’s talk about why. And what we can do.