Teresa Webb, of Stratford, gets swabbed for COVID-19 by nurse Julyssa Colon at a mobile test site set up by Optimus Health Care in the parking lot of the Russell Temple Church in Bridgeport, June 30, 2020. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

In Connecticut and across the country, mask and vaccine mandates are evaporating in a push to get back to normal. For many of us, our old normal is gone for good and the loss is a complicated one.

To date, about 10,000 Connecticut residents have died from COVID-19 and this figure is likely an underestimate. Thousands of preventable deaths due to pandemic-related hardship and missed medical care also weigh heavily. At the same time, the crisis of the pandemic and its deep inequities brought attention and energy to the pervasiveness and life-or-death consequences of racism.

This year marks Connecticut’s 4th annual celebration of Health Equity Week, held during the first full week of April to elevate the conversation about health equity and move folks to action on the policies that can advance equity in our state. It is past time to build a new, more equitable “normal” that upholds the humanity of every single resident of our state.

How? To do this, we need a plan for dismantling the racism that is baked into our policies, practices, and ways of being. This Health Equity Week, Health Equity Solutions is asking Connecticut residents, policymakers, and advocates to collaborate on a framework for anti-racist policymaking that we’re calling “CT’s Path to Equity.”

The framework lays out state-level policy changes, identified via listening sessions, partner engagement, and policy analysis, to promote health equity in Connecticut. It calls on us all to advance:

  1. Inclusion by implementing systems, processes, and circumstances that are open to and respectful of the needs of diverse identities. For example, tying community-identified needs to community benefit reporting, and ensuring public meetings are both accessible to all bodies and make efforts to address differences in knowledge and power.
  2. Access by expanding access to telehealth, funding doulas and community health workers, and other measures to adapt health services to people’s needs.
  3. Race, Ethnicity, and Language Measurement by using data to evaluate our progress towards equity.
  4. Anti-Racist Structures by acknowledging that all people and institutions exhibit racism at some point or some way and committing to dismantling racism through policies and practices that advance racial justice and promote equity. For example, creating meaningful community engagement strategies.
  5. Opportunities to be Healthy by providing conditions and circumstances that enable us to prevent illness and injury. For example, strengthening healthy housing initiatives and addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
  6. Affordability by ensuring people can get quality care that meets their needs while still being able to cover routine expenses. For example, collaborating with community-based organizations to ensure everyone can navigate our health systems and all residents of our state are eligible for insurance they can afford to use.

The Path to Equity will evolve as we encounter successes and challenges. Collaboration built this draft framework and more voices will make it stronger. Please chime in here.

Living through this period of mass devastation made inequities impossible to ignore and has fueled a newfound interest in making equity a reality. This work has begun — leveraging trusted messengers to deliver COVID-19 information, establishing the Commission on Racial Equity in Public Health, and much more. Now let’s walk the rest of this path together. Dismantling racism is a long, complex, and ongoing effort, but it is the only way forward to an equitable new norm.

Tekisha Dwan Everette, PhD, is executive director of Health Equity Solutions