By Marian Wright Edelman
Recently actor Will Smith conducted a video interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, our nation’s leading expert on the White House Coronavirus Task Force and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in which Dr. Fauci answered several questions from children and teenagers. Dr. Fauci explained what COVID-19 stands for, what coronaviruses are, and what makes this one different and dangerous. He answered 7-year-old Ava’s questions about whether the tooth fairy can still visit (yes!) and whether the tooth fairy could catch the virus from people (no!). Another girl asked if she and her brother can still go outside for walks (yes, but stay six feet away from other people). Eventually 16-year-old Jaelynn asked a question many of us have: “Is this ever going to end, or is this something we’re going to have to be doing for a good portion of our lives?”
Dr. Fauci told Jaelynn: “I have confidence that this is going to end.” He continued: “I don’t think it’s going to go away completely…but we are working on a vaccine, and I believe that when we have enough baseline immunity in the community that this is something you’re not going to have to worry about for the rest of your life. It’s tough now, and it may be tough for another year, but this something that will go away. I promise you.”
Will Smith called Dr. Fauci our defender and protector and said, “He is the truth.” Dr. Fauci has indeed been our Rock of Gibraltar and truth for many years. He is a great hero holding us all together in this crisis and has long been deeply concerned about children’s health and health disparities that leave so many people of color at disproportionate risk of serious illness, which he called “one of the failings of our society,” saying, “Any silver lining in this when it’s all over is to focus a bright shining light on what disparities of health mean.” We are all seeing in real time how this deadly pandemic is putting a harsh spotlight not just on health disparities but on our nation’s economic, social, and racial inequities. As the public health emergency has also become an economic catastrophe the glaring divides are growing.
A new report by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, Forecasting Poverty Rates During the COVID-19 Crisis, shows that poverty rates in the United States could reach their highest levels in 50 years due to COVID-19, and if unemployment rates continue to skyrocket an extra 21 million people could live in poverty this year alone. Not surprisingly, the report found these increases would be worst for people of color and children: “Black individuals face an increase of 12.6 percentage points, Hispanics face an increase of 9.4 percentage points, and Asians face a 5.8 percentage-point increase in poverty rates.”
Children could see their poverty rates rise 53 percent. Anyone who has already seen the long lines for food pantries and grocery store donations in their own communities understands that for many families the moment of crisis is already here. We can’t afford to let the bottom keep falling in the weeks and months ahead.
As Senate and House leaders look ahead to whether and when they will provide more real help, the Children’s Defense Fund and all of us must continue to insist that now is not the time for Congress to be modest in its investment in critical services. Much more is needed for children and families during and beyond this crisis. If ever there was a clear case study for why our nation cannot wait another moment to end preventable poverty and inequality it is this current pandemic revealing the consequences of our nation’s continued failure to fully invest in our children and most vulnerable. Congress must embrace this opportunity to change course and finally ensure all children and families can survive and thrive.