Opinion: Coronavirus Makes Inequality Even Deadlier. New York City Won't Accept It.

New York City's mayor and first lady outline their plan to fight the coronavirus in the communities of color that are being hit the hardest.

The journalists at BuzzFeed News are proud to bring you trustworthy and relevant reporting about the coronavirus. To help keep this news free, become a member and sign up for our newsletter, Outbreak Today.

“Coronavirus is the Great Equalizer.”

How many times did we hear that in the early days of this crisis? The headline wrote itself, as heads of state, celebrities, famous athletes, and literal royalty tested positive for the virus. No one was immune.

It was an easy story. But it was woefully incomplete.

Look beyond the surface and you’ll see a deeper, more painful reality. It’s a story as old as this nation — one that we should all recognize, if we’ve been paying attention. It’s the story of haves and have-nots. It’s the story of a broken economic and health care system that works for those at the top, and leaves others to die. It’s the story of black and brown Americans continuing to pay the price.

Coronavirus has turned our nation’s inequalities into a body count.

In New York City, we won’t accept that reality. Just like other cities, we’ve seen this virus ravage our communities of color and immigrant communities. It’s not hard to see why. They work on our front lines — our nurses, our bus and taxi drivers, our supermarket and pharmacy workers. They’re more likely to live in multi-generational homes — where “social distancing” is even harder. And too many have spent a lifetime without access to the medical care they deserve.

The deck has been stacked against them since the beginning.

As the mayor and first lady of New York City, we got into politics to end inequalities, wherever we found them. With New Yorkers’ help, we’ve pulled at the arc of justice for six years: Bringing Pre-K to every student in our city; giving every New Yorker access to health care; and bringing mental health care to all through our groundbreaking ThriveNYC program.

But this is a new challenge. And it demands a new response to help our communities of color — a four-part plan cities all over the world can learn from.

Step 1: Keep protecting our public hospitals.

These hospitals are the first line of defense for so many of our communities of color. When we came in six years ago, they were left for dead — underfunded and understaffed, with threats of closures and layoffs of doctors, nurses, and staff.

We invested billions to save our hospitals, and bring world-class care to the communities of color who largely depended on them. Right now, those hospitals are being stretched like never before. Every day, we’re getting them more help — whether it’s face shields to protect our heroes, nurses we’ve recruited from the US military, or sending our own ventilators, made right here in New York City.

We’re also using our public hospitals to bring testing right to our hard-hit communities. So far, we’ve opened five testing sites directly in the neighborhoods that need them most. We have five more on the way next week, and we’ll begin testing more than 7,000 people per week. We will remain laser-focused on helping people through our public hospitals, and all cities should.

Step 2: Launch a massive public awareness campaign.

There’s a pesky word in front of this virus: “Novel.” The best scientists in the world are still learning more by the hour. It’s our job to get new information out to every community — no matter the language or communication barrier.

So we’ve invested more than $10 million in a targeted ad campaign to our hardest-hit communities. We’ve translated the messages across 14 languages, and blanketed every digital and print channel we can to make sure we reach everyone.

Step 3: Do deep grassroots outreach.

Media alone won’t be enough. We need to go into these communities and reach people. How do you go into a community when everyone’s stuck inside? We’re starting with a texting campaign — real health care workers starting a dialogue.

But there’s no substitute for human-to-human interaction. If we can get enough protective equipment, we’ll send health care workers into these communities and reach people in person.

Step 4: Expand our Phone-a-Clinician program.

Even with grassroots outreach, these communities deserve more. They deserve a resource to turn to with any questions they might have, day or night. “How can I keep safe?” “Should my kids be going outside?” We owe not only answers, but security.

That’s why we’re expanding our Phone-a-Clinician program. Our communities of color and immigrant communities will have direct access to a clinician around-the-clock. They can ask anything they want, for free, and get the right advice to keep themselves and their families safe.

Those four steps will make a big difference — and they’ll help our communities of color get through this crisis. But “getting through” this isn’t enough.

Someday, this crisis will end — in New York City and across the world. When it does, it’s on us to build something even better. It’s on us to continue the mission we’ve devoted ourselves to for six years — to keep tearing down every wall of inequality, and bringing opportunity and fairness to every single New Yorker. That’s the only way forward. And it’s exactly what we’ll do.

Bill de Blasio is the mayor of New York City. Chirlane McCray is the first lady of New York City.

Topics in this article

Skip to footer