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Kilan Ashad-Bishop, Nancy Metayer: Has COVID-19 laid the groundwork for permanent social change?

Our collective new normal is nothing new to the working poor, communities of color and the vulnerable.

The coronavirus pandemic has shifted our perception of what lines of work are essential.

Suddenly, we collectively depend on not only health care systems, but also those among us who make the least pay for the most extended hours, and rarely in areas where they actually reside, to hold our society together.

Grocery-store workers, delivery drivers, gas station workers, and warehouse workers put in overtime to give the rest of us a sense of normalcy. Beyond the terms of shortsighted relief efforts, how will we protect these essential lines of work after this threat passes?

The world is now getting a taste of the day-to-day reality of the most vulnerable among us.

Low-wealth communities never get a break from existential threats, and for them, the long-term impacts of COVID-19 will likely be devastating. Every day, these communities deal with pollution and its environmental health impacts, poor sanitation and unsafe housing, minimal access to health care, unreliable communications, water, and energy infrastructure, and dependence on small businesses and low-wage jobs.

While some low-wage workers are job-secure for the moment, plenty more low-income workers are new applicants for unemployment benefits. Many of these challenges, which are mainly due to long-standing discrimination and structural racism, are only exacerbated by threats.

The Earth is rapidly changing, and the lens with which we are viewing the COVID-19 outbreak can be applied to a wide variety of threats we will face as a result of changing climate.

In the face of COVID-19, as with climate change, many communities are eager to respond and adapt, but they need better tools — institutions, networks, and resources — to be successful, especially in times of crisis.

We need a government that is committed to helping front-line organizations, communities, governments, and businesses work together to build resilience and better prepare for these challenges to benefit those most at risk.

That planning and foresight will lay the groundwork for a better, faster response in the event of a threat, whether it is a climate-related disruption, an economic shift, or even a global pandemic.

Has COVID-19 finally laid the groundwork for much-needed and permanent social change?

Are we ready to elect leaders who will implement the policies required to address the needs of the most vulnerable?

Our collective new normal is nothing new to the working poor, communities of color and the vulnerable. They understand what is at stake and have always had to adapt. If there is a push for change, will that only be reflected because the 1% now is expressing what these communities have always endured?

This is a teachable moment for us not only to correct our wrongdoings before it’s too late, but also bring everyone to the table to create a solution.

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Dr. Kilan Ashad-Bishop is a biomedical scientist and the vice-chair of the City of Miami Climate Resilience Committee.

Nancy Metayer is an environmental scientist, a former member of the Broward County Soil and Water Conservation District, and a candidate for the City of Coral Springs Commission.

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