Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to email@example.com with the subject “Stepping Up.”
Protesting against one pandemic shouldn’t come at the expense of combating another.
“We are fighting two pandemics in America,” said Hamdi Mohamed, King County policy adviser for the Executive Office of Equity and Social Justice. “One that we have been dealing with the last few months in COVID-19 and one that has been around a very long time, which is racism.
“We’re working really hard to fight against health disparities and improve health outcomes in our communities while simultaneously protesting the violence against Black and brown bodies. We can do both because we have to.”
Mohamed spearheaded an effort that created a partnership between local health authorities, Beyoncé and her mother, Tina Knowles-Lawson, to provide two days of free COVID-19 drive-thru testing this weekend in South King County.
Knowles-Lawson launched the #IDIDMYPART initiative with her superstar daughter’s BeyGood foundation in April to promote and broaden testing in Black and brown communities in efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The campaign, which began in Houston, makes its way to the Seattle area thanks to King County, the Somali Health Board, Matthew 25 Ministries and Procter & Gamble.
“The goal is to help normalize testing in our community,” Mohamed said. “A lot of times in the Black and brown community there’s a lot of fear around testing and there’s a lot of anxiety around COVID. We are hoping this initiative helps bring some sense of relief and energy to the importance of testing and remove that stigma that comes with COVID and getting tested for Black and brown folks.”
The drive-thru sites are open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., during which volunteers hope to administer 500 tests each day and distribute care packages, including household supplies, toiletries and gift cards.
On Saturday, the site will be located at HealthPoint in Renton before moving to Sea Mar Community Health Medical Center in Federal Way on Sunday.
“We were specifically targeting South King County because those are areas where the Black and brown community lives,” Mohamed said. “When you look at South King County, there are what we call testing desert areas that exist. There are areas where you’re seeing more COVID-positive cases and less people coming out to get tested in general.
“We picked those specific areas in hopes to encourage the community that lives there to come out and get tested and use the resources that are going to be available to them.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 33% of American COVID-19 patients are Black, despite African Americans making up only 13.4% of the overall population.
The threats facing the Black community have been highlighted over the past three months.
The video of George Floyd’s death ignited nationwide protests and discussions about police brutality and race relations at a time when the coronavirus exposed the inequalities in the American health care system.
According to a Johns Hopkins University analysis on April 17 of 26 states that provided racial data about the virus, Black people accounted for 34% of COVID deaths.
More than 116,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus and the mortality rate is 2.4 times higher for Black patients than white Americans.
“Some people are saying the protesters are endangering our health and safety and that immediately gets my blood going because it’s ignoring the fact that Black people’s health has been under a threat for many years,” Mohamed said. “When you see the data of COVID and who it’s impacting, it’s impacting the Black and brown community.
“So it’s parallel. We got to do it together. Both of these issues need to be addressed in solidarity. … You can’t fight one and not the other. We got to be able to address both and take them both equally serious.”