Expert Advisory Panel 4 discusses impacts of COVID-19 pandemic for various communities



Expert Advisory Panel 4 discussed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic among different communities in the area and how different racial groups have been affected more than others in terms of their health and safety.

Expert Advisory Panel 4: Public Health, Safety, and Logistics convened via Zoom on March 19 to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities in Brookline. Panel 4 also provided an update on the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE) sponsored asymptomatic pool testing program.

Co-Chair of Expert Advisory Panel 4 David Gacioch said that Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities are being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is evidence available that clearly shows in population level terms, that the pandemic unambiguously has hit Black communities, Latinx communities, Indigenous North American and multiracial communities harder than white communities and to most extents, Asain and Pacific American communities here, in terms of case rates and in terms of population level hospitalization and mortality rates,” Gacioch said.

Medical Director at MassHealth and pulmonary and critical care physician at Cambridge Health Alliance Laksham Swany said these disparate impacts are not due to any inherent differences between races.

“These [statistics around hospitalization and mortality] are because of structural factors, structural racism, this isn’t a genetic difference or anything in terms of the way the virus is affecting people. I can say from my experience treating patients with COVID in the ICU, it was the same story over and over again, it was essential workers, it was people in crowded housing situations…that’s where [the disproportionate impacts are] coming from,” Swany said.

High school social worker Karen Kennedy said there is a correlation with kids who don’t want to come back to school and those who are a part of the disproportionately affected communities. Factors such as living in a multigenerational home can lead to students feeling less comfortable going back to school.

“As we look at equity in terms of education and in terms of coming back to school, we have to be very sensitive to what is holding a kid from coming back,” Kennedy said. “It is about access.”

Gacioch said that the panel cannot overlook the needs of students who live outside the town.

“Some of our students don’t live in Brookline, and they are just as much members of our PSB community as students who do live in Brookline are. We have to make sure that we are meeting their needs and answering their questions,” Gacioch said.

Gacioch said the goal of the panel is to provide information to all members of the PSB community.

“The goal here, is not to convince anyone to participate in in-person school, or to change how they feel about anything, but to hear concerns and questions and offer information that we have available to help people make informed decisions about what works best for them,” Gacioch said.

Gacioch also acknowledged the spike in racism against Asian-Americans since the pandemic began.

Panel 4 discussed the various logistical challenges they face when trying to make the new asymptomatic pool testing program more accessible to the public. Limited nursing staff to run the program, a lack of student buy-in, and an early morning time frame for the tests to be performed all contribute to the poor participation rates in the program.

Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases and Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine Benjamin Linas said that more diverse racial perspectives need to be included in the panel discussions about equity and accessibility; Gacioch agreed.

“We’ve started to try to make those reach outs and invited folks to come today, but this may not be a convenient time for people,” Gacioch said. “This is an ongoing process, and ongoing conversation we need to have.”