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The pandemic: Myths debunked, helpful information from those on the front lines

Key takeaways from virtual town hall meeting
Posted at 6:52 PM, Mar 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 18:52:51-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- Experts on the front lines of the pandemic battle in central Indiana took part Thursday in a virtual "town hall" meeting on Facebook sponsored by the Indianapolis Recorder newspaper, in conjunction with the Next Generation Initiative and InnoPower.

They were there to discuss the impact of the coronavirus on the African American communities of central Indiana along with the population in general.

The panel included:

  • Dr. Virginia Caine, Director, Marion County Public Health Department
  • IPS Superintendent Alessia Johnson
  • Ann Murtlow, President & CEO, United Way of Central Indiana
  • Regina Ashley, Indiana Department of Workforce Development
  • Paul Babcock, Director, Indianapolis Department of Health and Safety

Here are some key takeaways from the meeting:

Myth: African American cannot catch the COVID-19 virus. Dr. Caine says this rumor has been circulating in Indianapolis, and there is nothing to it. "This particular virus has no discrimination, has no discrimination in regards to any race, like Asian Americans, is at a higher risk for this. No discrimination, so African Americans can get this virus just as easily as any ethnic group."

Challenges faced by school systems: The two biggest, according to IPS Superintendent Alessia Johnson, are making sure students can still get some studies done at home, and assuring children who need school-provided meals continue to get them. Those challenges, she said, exist in all Marion County school systems and just grew Thursday when Governor Eric Holcomb announced public and private schools will not reopen until at least early-May.

In Indianapolis, sites where students can get school-provided lunch and breakfast opened late last week. "As of yesterday (Wednesday) we had about 1,200 students taking advantage of that, which is higher than last year's spring break and fall break feedings," said Johnson. "That number is already higher than what we have seen, so we anticipate that need will continue to grow."

The IPS superintendent said more food sites will open next week and location information will be available soon

Johnson also issued a plea to parents to be involved in the home learning of their children in the coming days. "May 1st is six weeks from now. Our children can't not be engaged in some level of academics over six weeks," said Johnson. "Most districts have information on their websites and most schools have them as well."

Unemployment: Jobless claims are growing at a significant rate as companies facing financial challenges close or reduce their workforce. "And we know that there are a lot of African Americans individuals that are employed in industries that are among the first to be hit in this crisis," said Ann Murtlow, President and CEO of the United Way of Central Indiana. "We are focused on that population and the population living in poverty, the population that is always in need, and those who will be in need, and we look to resource organizations that are going to be serving that need."

Unemployment claims are filed through the Department of Workforce Development. "We do require individuals to file online with a computer or smartphone," said Regina Ashley, who represented the department at the meeting. "So if you have been impacted, laid off from your job, lost your job or had a significant reduction in hours, are staying home with kids because schools are closed, I would highly recommend that you go to the unemployment website and file and answer the questions honestly and let us do the work and the background."

For those who do not have a computer or phone they can use to file, computers are available at the Workforce Development office in the Government Center, downtown.

Testing for the Coronavirus. Dr. Caine is not please with the federal response. "We have limited testing in the State of Indiana because the initial tests that we received came from the federal government, the Centers for Disease Control. They were the only ones in the U.S. initially to have the tests," she said. So I know I hear, it's just the craziest thing, people fault the state because they are not doing enough testing. Well, how can you test more people if you don't more kits from the federal government and they are the only ones who developed the kits."

The test kit shortage should ease, said Caine, as the federal government produces more and private companies also ramp up their production.

The food supply: "You know right now what we are seeing, and we're seeing it in all aspects of the population is this is not so much an increase in the need for food outside where kids are used to being fed at schools, but a fear for the need of an increase in food that is causing, in many cases, a run on grocery stores.," said Murtlow of the United Way.

Some problems, she said, can be solved at the neighborhood level. "If you know you have elderly people in your neighborhood, check in on them and ask them if they have the prescriptions that they need. Ask them if they have the food that they need. Check in on them because social isolation among seniors is a big issue and it's a mental health issue, too."

Lessons being learned: The coronavirus crisis has been an eye-opener for Murtlow. "The same old way that we've been providing services are not the appropriate way to provide the services today"