Moments into President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address, he called out the perpetual elephant in the room— COVID 19. “Last year COVID-19 kept us apart,” Biden said after addressing his audience. “This year we are finally together again.”
Not only did the pandemic keep Biden from giving his first State of the Union with the traditional attendees of policymakers and their guests, the last 13-plus months of this pandemic has naturally defined his presidency. Despite the turmoil COVID has caused, White House officials insist that the Administration is working to come out of the health crisis, a more equitable nation than we went in.
“The idea that the pandemic brought to light a lot of the inequity we face in this country comes from a place of privilege,” Dr. Cameron Webb told EBONY ahead of Biden’s address. The Senior Policy Advisor for Equity on the White House COVID-19 Response Team says that’s because for so many of us, those inequities have been totally apparent. Yes, generation. As more Americans are keyed in to the struggle, Cameron says the White House is steadily making sure that other people realize the dramatic impact that social determinants of health have and the dramatic impacts of the lack of health care access can have.
“It has a dramatic impact on income inequality. It has disproportionate dynamics in terms of work environments— who are essential workers are and what it actually means to be essential,” Webb says. “And I think we take this moment to say we're not going to wait until the pandemic is over to galvanize the voices of Black Americans. We are not going to stand here and die, person, by person, community, by community because we were being neglected.”
Webb says this is a critical moment for the country in terms of equity—both from a health perspective and a financial perspective. “We leverage that moment by turning it into sustained action. And that's not just the charge of Black America. That's the charge of everyone.”
For the Biden Administration that charge includes a focus on embedding equity into everything, shifting the conversation from centering COVID equity to centering general health equity. That is inclusive of making sure that Americans have valued work that doesn’t put them in harm’s way when a health crisis arises, as well as being able to provide for their families when time off of work is needed.
“The steps that we've taken over the last 13 months have been critical to reducing Black poverty, childhood poverty,” Webb says. “We have to continue to lean into those kinds of policies and continue to acknowledge the poverty that continues to be a bacteria to our community. It has to be our collective responsibility to address.”
While the pandemic provided the lens through which we can see a lot of the inequitable dynamics in our community, Webb says the President is ready to take that next step. “That's what the whole frame of Build Back Better was about. The realization that we shouldn't be trying to get back into how things looked in December 2019,” Webb shares. “That wasn't great for everybody. Everything we've learned about the inequitable dynamics in our society we have to apply that to what we're building toward as we come out of this pandemic.”
Over the last two years, from working in the hospital taking care of patients with COVID, being actively involved in his community, and now working in the White House, Webb says he’s witnessed many different seasons of this pandemic—a pandemic that he warns, is not over. “We really can't afford to take our eye off the ball and say the pandemic is over and ignore everything we've learned,” Webb says. “It's a matter of listening and applying everything we've learned to our ongoing survival.”