GreenRoots Report Outlines Root Causes of COVID-19 Severity in Chelsea

 A new report released by the Chelsea environmental health and justice nonprofit GreenRoots last week outlines how systemic racism, immigration policy, health status, air quality, food security are associated with the likelihood of being infected with Covid-19 and drive the spread of the disease.

During a press conference at City Hall last week, GreenRoots was joined by community leaders, residents, and city officials advocating for policy change and the investment of federal funds to address the social determinants of health.

“As an organization centered in one of the most disproportionately impacted communities in the state and in the nation, it came us no surprise to us that Covid-19 would wreak havoc on our fellow residents, our friends, our families, and our neighbors,” said said Roseann Bongiovanni, Executive Director at GreenRoots.

Bogiovanni said the report synthesizes research on the compounded impacts which made Chelsea residents at risk to COVID-19, and provides proof that lawmakers and stakeholders in Chelsea and nationwide, must prioritize people over profit, especially Black, Brown, Immigrant and Indigenous communities who are disproportionately burdened with environmental hazards and harmful policies and practices.

“Our team has spent the last year reviewing research, synthesizing information, and writing this report in a way that is not only accessible, but provides a deep dive into the inequities of Chelsea’s social determinants of health, which ultimately influence our city’s vulnerability to Covid-19,” said Priyanka Rangadass, one of the report’s co-authors and GreenRoot’s health equity core research organizer.

In addition to collaborating with community leaders to get an accurate picture of the social and health determinants, Rangadass said there were interviews with residents to get their stories and to make the report about more than just statistics.

“This report tells the story of Chelsea, and why we were one of the first cities to be hit worst by the pandemic,” said Rangadass. 

Like many other hard hit communities during the pandemic, Chelsea is a low-income community that is home to a large population of people of color, Randagass stated.

“Our report highlights not only how our residents’ demographics but how intersections of all the social determinants of health played a large role in influencing Chelsea’s Covid-19 infection rates and severity of illness,” she said.

“I am continually inspired by Chelsea’s resiliency and grateful for the residents who serve on the front lines during this pandemic,” said Peter Slavin, MD, President at Massachusetts General Hospital. “When Chelsea became the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, it became clear that resiliency alone would not prevent illness when other facts – housing, employment, food, and racism, to name a few – have a much greater impact on health. Together, I hope that we can foster the health and wellbeing of our communities by addressing these factors and the alarming health disparities they create.” 

To avert future humanitarian disasters, the report states that investments must be made to improve social determinants of health, including prioritizing increasing green space, healthy and stable housing, language justice, health equity, food security, educational attainment, transit justice, and more, while also calling for the enforcement of laws against polluters, racist practices, slumlords, and corporations preying on neighborhoods to prevent further systemic harm in communities like Chelsea. 

“Roseann Bongiovanni, executive director of GreenRoots, said it best in this report, we must invest in people,” stated Senator Ed Markey in prepared remarks that were read during the press conference. “We know that funding for physical infrastructure is important, but so are the people who use it.”

GreenRoots organizers said with new possibilities for federal funding, they hope the report can serve as a roadmap towards health equity for all in Chelsea and across the nation. 

The full report is available on the GreenRoots website at greenrootschelsea.org/chelseacovid-19report.

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