Talk of COVID-19 is pushed to the side as leaders grapple with new crisis

The governor and county leaders held media briefings as they’ve done for more than two months during the health pandemic, but on Monday there was scant mention of COVID-19.

Long Beach had not announced a 3 p.m. coronavirus briefing at all. Instead officials participated in a press conference at 11 a.m. dealing solely with the Sunday protests, largely peaceful, over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, and also the overnight violence that led to looting and vandalism of several businesses.

Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered his remarks from a church in South Sacramento with an emotional plea to support the message of protesters, and for all residents to come to grips with their role in the violence happening around the state.

“The black community is not responsible for what’s happening right now,” Newsom said. “We are. We are responsible.”

County leaders gathered as well for their coronavirus update, with Barbara Ferrer, the county health officer, drawing a direct connection between the health pandemic and the unrest that has unfolded in cities across the country.

Black Americans, she said, fare far worse than others on every health measure, noting high levels of stress leading to a variety of illnesses that are too common to blame on individual behavior. African Americans also have less access to health care and resources, she said.

“We have seen elevated deaths of black residents due to COVID-19, and I am reporting today on the consequences of these disparities,” she said.

Ferrer, normally stoic, teared up while talking about an editorial written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Los Angeles Times.

COVID-19 has slammed the consequences of racism home “as we die at a significantly higher rate than whites, are the first to lose our jobs, and watch helplessly as Republicans try to keep us from voting,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “Just as the slimy underbelly of institutional racism is being exposed, it feels like hunting season is open on blacks.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, in opening the county briefing, talked about the businesses that have been closed for months and only recently been given permission to start reopening with safety protocols, only to now be devastated by looting.

The county issued a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Tuesday, and Long Beach put in place a curfew from 4 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday.

Barger noted the connection between the recent stay-at-home orders imploring residents to do their part to stem the spread of the virus, and the curfews due to violence.

“We must do what we can to protect one another and protect public safety on the front lines,” she said.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.