A Window of Opportunity Emerges in the Midst of COVID-19

Health Equity, Part 1

August 3, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and, in many cases, worsened long-standing disparities in an array of social determinants of health, including food access and access to health services. Consider:

  • The number of food-insecure households has increased throughout many jurisdictions within the nation, and 1 in every 6 Americans is now at risk of hunger, causing the demand at food banks and pantries to spike.
  • The threat of food insecurity is highest in regions with large Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities.
  • Systemic and institutionalized racial and economic barriers mean the health systems in many of these same regions are ill-equipped to combat the virus.

While the pandemic vividly demonstrates the need for change within the realms of food security and health care, it also opens a window of opportunity to address these persistent inequities. How can communities respond to the pressures from the threat of economic instability and rising demands on health systems? Now, more than ever, we need creative solutions and the redistribution of resources.

For this reason, the kickoff of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge couldn’t have come at a better time. The primary focus of Challenge grantees is to curate collaborative and community-led initiatives that will work to increase access to foods that promote health, health services or both. Although kicking off an initiative during a global pandemic presents some unique obstacles, the Challenge is giving 20 communities the opportunity to test ways of overcoming the immediate threats of COVID-19 and to advance health equity.

The communities participating in the Challenge haven’t wasted any time in leveraging this opportunity, either. Even prior to the official start of the initiative, project teams were using creative problem-solving techniques to weave together the work of a variety of diverse partners and resources that have not traditionally been available or shared across sectors. These new and existing partnerships and cross-sector collaborative approaches have already led to the establishment of food policy councils, advocacy for policy changes, engagement with local residents, and more. Even in the looming presence of COVID, many of these communities are fast-tracking their efforts due to silos breaking down out of necessity and an infusion of resources to meet the immediate needs of community members.

The severity of the COVID-19 crisis and uncertainty of the coming months cannot be diminished. However, this public health emergency does offer a unique opportunity to use new and existing resources to transform long-standing systems in the realms of health care and food access for a more equitable future.

Follow along here as we continue our health equity series this month! And explore more on the intersection of COVID-19 and health equity at www.apha.org/topics-and-issues/communicable-disease/coronavirus/equity.

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