The Painful Pandemic Lessons Mandy Cohen Carries to the CDC

by | Aug 23, 2023 | Health

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As covid-19 devastated communities across the nation in spring 2020, a group of Black ministers in this racially divided city made an urgent plea for more testing in their neighborhoods.

Testing at the time “was outside of communities of color,” said the Rev. Jordan Boyd, pastor of Rockwell AME Zion Church in Charlotte. For Boyd, pandemic losses were personal: Covid-related complications killed a brother-in-law who worked as a truck driver. “We saw what was happening with our folks.”

Mandy Cohen, who led the state’s pandemic response as secretary of North Carolina’s health department, had said widespread testing was one of “our best tools to keep our community safe and to protect our frontline workers.” But the state was failing to get tests to its most vulnerable people, with grim consequences: Black people in North Carolina were getting sick and dying from covid-related causes at far higher rates than white people, data show.

KFF Health News analyzed and confirmed publicly available data, including the location of testing sites that Cohen’s office directed the public to in mid-May 2020 in Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, the state’s largest city. Just 1 in 4 fixed sites stood in more disadvantaged areas with significant Black populations, including what is known as the Crescent, neighborhoods reaching west, north, and east of downtown that for generations have had elevated rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, lung …

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