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Town Hall Meeting Held to Examine COVID-19 Impact On Gainesville's Minority Communities

City Commissioner Gigi Simmons (left) and Virginia Grant (middle right) discuss important COVID-19 topics with a panel of experts to help educate minority communities.
City Commissioner Gigi Simmons (left) and Virginia Grant (middle right) discuss important COVID-19 topics with a panel of experts to help educate minority communities.

The City of Gainesville hosted a “Telephone Town Hall” Monday to explore the impact COVID-19 has had on communities with a history of socioeconomic disparities.

The meeting aimed to address concerns Gainesville City Commissioner Gigi Simmons had heard from the community regarding proper education on COVID-19 related topics.  She also wanted to discuss how to ensure vulnerable communities have the resources they need to get through the pandemic successfully.

During the hourlong phone call, panel members and callers discussed topics such as the proper use of face coverings, reaching out to disenfranchised communities, how to keep healthcare and essential workers safe, and other similar issues.

Three main areas need to be focused on when thinking about essential workers, who are often part of minority groups, said panelist Bakari F. Burns, an Orlando city commissioner. These areas include ensuring workers have access to adequate personal protective equipment, affordable health care services and testing.

“We need to advocate for testing in our hard-to-reach communities, and do it in unconventional ways,” Burns said.  An example that he gave was a food distribution in Orlando, where around 200 people received free COVID-19 tests as they waited in line.

While testing itself is crucial to help people find out if they have the disease, taking preventative measures is equally important, said Dr. J. Adrian Tyndall, the interim dean of the University of Florida’s College of Medicine.

“One of the most important things to do is really focus on prevention,” Tyndall said.  “That means when I walk into a store, there shouldn’t be a lot of people walking around that store without masks.”

Minorities carry a higher likelihood of having problems with hypertension, asthma, diabetes and lung disease, Tyndall said. These conditions have been associated with a higher risk when it comes to patients falling ill from COVID-19.  Preventative action will further help those with underlying conditions stay safe.

“The key to everything that we’re trying to accomplish is education,” Simmons said.

It is important that the community also practices tolerance, said Virginia Walker, the executive director of Gainesville Black Professionals. For example, if someone is wearing a mask incorrectly, be kind when informing them on proper use.

“I hope as individuals we take this time to unite and not try to find another way to divide,” Walker said.

On a similar note, Jones said that law enforcement must not be allowed to use these measures as an opportunity to over police.

“This is a new normal, we’re all learning,” Jones said.  “This should not be a tool for individuals to be arrested or be cited or fined.  It’s a time for us to educate.”

Gainesville city employees have been going out into communities to ensure that those who are disenfranchised are also receiving important information and resources.

One of the resources mentioned during the meeting was the Palms Medical Group. It offers a sliding fee scale for those who do not have health insurance, Burns said. Their services include family medicine and pediatric care.

On Wednesday, the Alachua County Health Department will offer free COVID-19 testing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Community Praise Center.  On Thursday, more free testing will be available from 9 a.m. to noon at the Gainesville Technology and Entrepreneurship Center. Testing for both dates will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

Emma is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing