Dear fellow South Floridians,
We hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy. Like many in our community and around the country, the Health Foundation of South Florida has been closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19. Now, as our region braces to confront this global pandemic, we wanted to take a moment to share some insight we believe is particularly important at such a challenging time.
It’s critical to remember coronavirus is not just a disease threatening our community’s health, potentially overwhelming our hospitals and costing way too many lives—it also poses a significant threat to our economic stability. Consider this public health crisis a stress test of our healthcare system but also of our resilience as a region.
Nowhere will the crisis be felt more deeply than in the already vulnerable sectors of our community, where as a foundation we have long focused our work. More than half of South Florida residents don’t have access to the cash they need to make it through an emergency, whether it’s a hurricane or a pandemic. Our local economy is largely dependent on hourly wage workers in the service, hospitality and retail industries, who often have no paid sick leave and who don’t have the option of working remotely. And more than 30 percent of our residents have no health insurance or usual source of healthcare.
Small- and medium-sized businesses— key engines and employers for our region—are certain to feel hardship too, as consumer activities like shopping, going to the movies, dining out, and attending events decline steeply. Many of these businesses may be forced to lay off or furlough workers, who in turn will have a hard time paying for rent, food or to see a doctor if they feel sick.
And when schools close, what will working parents with no childcare do, including those in the healthcare field on whom we’ll be depending more than ever? How will it compromise their ability to work and bring home a paycheck? To say nothing of the fact that an overwhelming majority of public-school students depend on the school system’s subsidized meal programs for breakfast and lunch every day.
Imagine such a slow-down lasting weeks. Or months. Our well-documented affordability crisis—the one that already identifies South Florida as one of the least affordable, most inequitable cities in the country—can get worse. And so would the well-being of our community, since people’s ability to live healthy lives depends more than anything on their access to safe, stable housing and a steady job that pays enough to cover monthly living costs.
So while the first order of business as a community is undoubtedly to stop the pandemic itself and keep people healthy, we also know that doing so requires making thoughtful decisions as leaders, entrepreneurs, even as individual residents. Here are a few things every one of us can consider doing whether we’re an employee, a CEO, an elected official or just a person who calls South Florida home.
SHARE FACTS NOT FEAR There’s a considerable amount of rumors spreading about COVID-19. And we’ve seen a fair share of hysteria too. Now more than ever, it’s critical to understand what is accurate and what is not so we can all make better choices. The best and most up-to-date resource for Florida-specific information, guidance and protocols is the Florida Department of Health, which has a webpage dedicated entirely to coronavirus. You can also call them 24 hours a day at 1-866-779-6121.
MEET A VIRTUAL DOCTOR Across the country, the use of virtual doctor visits has emerged as a way to safely treat patients and to help contain the virus’s spread at hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending people see an online doctor as a first line of defense if they’re feeling symptoms. Take this recommendation seriously. Doing so can help mitigate the virus’ spread, minimize exposure and keep healthcare workers, who will surely be strained and overextended, safer. Baptist Health South Florida has made its virtual platform, Care on Demand, available to everyone for free. And Memorial Health System has made its MemorialDocNow platform free until March 31 as well. Use them.
SUPPORT THE LOCAL ECONOMY BY SUPPORTING THE LOCALS If you’re an employer, big or small, do your best to continue paying employees even if they’re unable to work. Make sure you’re not creating an environment in which workers feel they must show up even if they’re sick for fear of losing a paycheck. Doing so puts the rest of your staff, customers and even you at risk. If you’re an individual who usually pays for baby-sitting, housekeeping or other domestic support, consider paying your provider even if you cancel appointments or services. Many people in the service sector are just two pay checks away from financial ruin, and from losing their home. By not disrupting their income, you can help them weather the storm and protect our region from exacerbating the housing and food security challenges that already exist, and that directly impact our overall health and well-bring.
KEEP A HEALTHY DISTANCE By now you may have heard the term “flatten the curve.” It essentially means slowing down the rate at which people get infected. A rapid spike in coronavirus cases (visualized by a spiking curve) threatens to overwhelm hospitals, which have a finite number of beds, equipment and staff. By spreading out the number of cases over a longer period—even if the actual amount isn’t reduced— it “flattens” the spike and can ensure our health system has the bandwidth to care properly for patients. The key? The social distancing measures we’ve all heard about: avoid large groups, stay home if you’re sick, forgo travel, keep your distance from others, and go in for an elbow bump instead of a handshake or that most Miami of greetings: the air kiss. Many companies and organizations have already encouraged employees to work remotely and are holding digital phone conferences instead of meetings. If you’re an employer who hasn’t done so, consider it. If remote work is not possible, follow the CDC’s recommendations for increased cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces and remind employees to wash hands and cover coughs and sneezes.
COME TOGETHER IN SPIRIT AND IN ACTION As a foundation, we’re working closely with our grantees and partners, many of them community-based health organizations at the frontline of this pandemic. We’re ready for them to tell us exactly what they need and prepared to respond with fast support. But the side effects and symptoms of this crisis stretch far beyond what we in the health sector can treat. And the last few weeks have been nothing if not a reminder of how deeply interconnected we are to one another—geographically, economically, socially. If you’re an individual, consider donating to a local food bank or charitable groups working in vulnerable communities. In the private, public and philanthropic sectors we must to come together now, as we bear the brunt of the pandemic, and later, when we’re left with its longer-term damage. Everyone’s going to need a seat at the table and a voice. Because that’s the only way we can truly build the path to recovery.
Dr. Steve Marcus
Presdient & CEO
Health Foundation of South Florida