Gov. Charlie Baker’s tour of public schools in the affluent suburb of Carlisle and subsequent comment that “the best defense against this insidious disease (COVID) comes down to personal responsibility” was met with contempt and deemed extremely tone deaf by members of East Boston’s Ward 1 Democratic Committee.
Baker was in Carlisle last week to push for the reopening of more in-person learning at schools across the state.
However, his choice of Carlisle was curious as the town has only had 34 confirmed cases as of Nov. 11 and a positive test rate of 1.12 percent.
As a comparison Eastie, only one neighborhood in all of Boston, has reported 3,151 confirmed cases and a positive test rate of 16.8 percent.
“Governor Baker said about COVID that “the best defense against this insidious disease comes down to personal responsibility,” said the Ward 1 Committee in a statement this week. “Wrong. It comes down to addressing inequities that our Governor continues to ignore. The lowest “risk” communities for COVID in Greater Boston are also the wealthiest ones: Lexington, Needham, Newton-Wellesley, Concord-Carlisle, Cambridge, and Brookline. That’s not a coincidence. East Boston doesn’t have high COVID rates because we lack personal responsibility. We have high COVID rates because we lack equitable public policy and serious leadership from our governor, who should be voted out of office in 2022.”
Over the summer Rep. Adrian Madaro blasted the same notion when some implied that Eastie residents, and residents in other low-income communities, were to blame for COVID spikes because they are not following health guidelines closely enough.
“This is wrong,” said Madaro. “Our community isn’t worse at wearing masks/social distancing, or taking fewer public health precautions than any other. That’s not why our rates are higher than the suburbs. Our COVID infection rates are higher because our communities are systematically more vulnerable to the spread of this disease. This was true at the beginning of the shutdown, and it has become truer as MA has progressed through the phases of reopening.”
Madaro argued that many working-class Eastie residents don’t have the privilege of working from home like many who live in more affluent areas of the state.
“Their jobs require them to go out to work, and in most cases they’re interacting with coworkers or members of the public through jobs in the service industry – construction, cleaning, restaurants, etc.,” said Madaro. “While the shutdown meant some (but not all) of these service workers were staying home, our state’s reopening means that even more are back to work out in the public now. This means Eastie residents and surrounding communities have an increased risk of COVID exposure and infection.”
As housing in Eastie becomes more expensive and hard to find, Madaro said most Eastie workers live in apartments that are full of family or roommates, and short on space.
“People share rooms,” he said. “When everyone’s living together in a small space, there aren’t many opportunities for social distance. This means that when a worker gets sick, they have nowhere to quarantine. This puts the rest of their household at higher risk of contracting COVID. Reports indicate that this kind of “family spread” is one of the top ways that COVID is spreading in East Boston.”
Residents in high-risk communities like Eastie are also more prone to COVID due to health issues that are the result of longstanding environmental burdens.
“We are Environmental Justice communities with a long history of air pollution,” said Madaro. “Eastie residents have long suffered from elevated rates of respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and COPD, a legacy of living next to an international airport and a major highway. COVID is a respiratory illness. It’s no surprise our residents are at an increased risk.”
Earlier this year, Attorney General Maura Healey released a report on the role of environmental pollution in higher rates of COVID infection in low-income communities of color. It’s no coincidence that these communities remain the hardest-hit now.
According to the Boston Public Health Commission the Latino community makes up 33 percent of all known COVID cases in the city and the Black/African-American community accounts for 28 percent of all cases in Boston.