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Activists urge Baltimore officials to support the vulnerable, be proactive in preparing for arrival of coronavirus

People's Power Assembly called for Baltimore City government to protect those vulnerable to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Nearly a dozen activists demanded a meeting with city and state officials and urged them to take steps to protect vulnerable residents of Baltimore from the potential impact of the coronavirus at a rally in front of City Hall on Saturday.

Sharon Black of the People’s Power Assembly, civil rights activist Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, and Jennie Lu of National Nurses United were among those who made the case that because the poor and the homeless are generally the hardest hit during outbreaks of illness, the city must take specific steps to keep those groups safe should COVID-19 eventually hit Baltimore.

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So far, each of the three reported cases of the illness in Maryland has been in Montgomery County.

Black read a list of 16 demands to onlookers and reporters, including a request that city officials use their emergency powers to create a plan to distribute food to vulnerable families, to suspend evictions and foreclosures for infected people and to feed school children who depend on school lunches each day should schools be closed.

They also demanded that plans be put in place to help the homeless in shelters and in the streets and to help immigrants who might be fearful of approaching government officials for assistance.

“Concerns for the elderly and the poor, the homeless, prisoners and our immigrant population need to be addressed sooner rather than later,” Black said, adding that the demands were just the opening requests in what she hopes will be a series of meetings between activists and city and state leaders, including health department officials.

Lu told those gathered that a recent survey of nurses showed that only 29 percent believe their hospitals are sufficiently prepared for the current outbreak and argued that it’s especially important to protect “front line” health-care workers, both for their sakes and for the good of their potential patients. “If nurses are not protected, then nobody is protected,” she said.

Cheatham urged religious leaders to counsel precaution against the virus at their services Sunday.

“It’s estimated that 10,000 people will be in church [in Baltimore] tomorrow,” he said. “We’re challenging pastors, ministers, imams and rabbis to help get this word out.”

He also demanded an emergency meeting of local officials on the subject this week.

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A spokesman for Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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