Covid-19 in Baltimore: ‘This is a people’s issue’

SLL photo: Daniel G. Cardwell

Over a dozen community organizers and health care workers met to raise concerns over the city’s response to Covid-19. Members of the Peoples Power Assembly (PPA) and National Nurses United (NNU) called upon city officials, the Baltimore City Health Department and city residents to work together to protect the community’s most vulnerable people.

Standing in front of Baltimore City Hall, Sharon Black of the PPA read a list of demands. They included paid sick and childcare leave for all low-wage workers impacted by the illness. That means no reprisals or job loss for workers who are sick, quarantined or taking care of school children or family members. The activists also called for the city to halt evictions and foreclosures for those who are sick, quarantined or cannot work due to the crisis, and for free meal distributions to students in case any Baltimore City schools are forced to close.

‘Patients should not be afraid to seek care’

After the demands were read, Jennie Lu of NNU spoke to the importance of nurses having a constant voice in running hospitals and health care — not just during times of crisis. She pointed out that an “abysmal” 29 percent of nurses nationwide said that their employers had a plan to deal with Covid-19. “If nurses aren’t protected, then nobody is protected.”

The NNU also demanded Johns Hopkins cease suing patients for medical debt, which deters people from seeking care in the first place. When people can’t get treatment, they remain sick and have a higher chance of passing on illness. As Lu pointed out, medical debt hurts everyone, not just the poor.

Longtime Baltimore Civil Rights leader Marvin “Doc” Cheatham responded to the City Health Department’s recommendations for prevention: “We don’t need you to tell us what needs to be done. We need you to come work with us.” Cheatham also stressed the importance of neighbors banding together, not wasting time waiting for officials to respond.

Bonnie “Raven” Lane also gave practical demands to help address the concerns of Baltimore’s homeless people. She called on city officials and shelters to provide public washing stations and increase sanitation of public spaces, like busses and public parks.

Solidarity with the people of the world

Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities are even more endangered by this pandemic because of poverty and racist policies. This results in lower rates of health insurance coverage and less access to medical care. As the capitalist health care system fails us, Cuba offers to send doctors to the most vulnerable communities around the world. In Baltimore, labor unions, community organizations, activist groups and socialists are taking the lead in making progressive demands of city and state officials, while directly organizing the people to defend themselves from a crisis sparked by Covid-19 and a failing market.