Op-Ed: Our Post-Covid Lives Shouldn’t Go Back to ‘Normal’—They Should Go Back Better

It has been a year.

Yes, that is an understatement. But it has also been illuminating, as well as a true opportunity for all of us to ensure that our post-Covid-19 lives don’t go back to “normal” but go back better.

Covid-19 stripped down our support structures and shone an unforgiving light on the pre-existing gaps in services for our county’s families, specifically as they relate to health, food and internet access.

Those gaps are holding our community back and it is our collective responsibility to not only bridge those gaps but take us further together.

Last year was all about triage. It is now time to move into recovery, with the primary focus on areas that impact the lives of our families. This work will take partnership across government, private sector and Community-based organizations.

So lets get to specifics.

On April 1, I held my second annual @TheKidsTable event, bringing together health professionals, community and elected leaders, and allies from around the country to hear how these gaps manifest in real life as personally experienced by Jennifer Carroll Foy, candidate for governor in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“Virginia is the 10th wealthiest state in the nation but women are dying at Third World rates,” Carroll-Foy told the audience.

Sadly, these same realities hold true in Santa Clara County where the Black infant morality rate is nearly three times higher than any other racial or ethnic group.

Ms. Carroll-Foy shared her own experience of being unheard and dismissed as a Black woman during dangerous pregnancy complications following the birth of her twins. Her story was shocking but not uncommon.

To the nearly 200 @TheKidsTable participants, I issued three calls to action: elevate the conversation about race and health, connect birthing people to care, and mobilize for policy and systems change.

These calls to action did not end with the conclusion of @TheKidsTable.

This coming Tuesday, April 6, I will introduce two initial actions in the areas of Black Infant Health and Black Maternal Health: raising public awareness through a proclamation of April 11 to 17 as Black Maternal Health Week in Santa Clara County to correspond to the national campaign created by Black Mamas Matter Alliance and asking for my Board colleagues’ support of the Federal Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021.

The Momnibus Act is a comprehensive package of twelve bills that looks broadly at policies for improving maternal health outcomes for all birthing people, with a special emphasis on closing disparities. Strategies addressing workforce development, anti-bias training, maternal mortality review boards, and the social conditions that contribute to these disparities can drive national change and inform local action.

Along with these efforts around health, I will also bring forward a request for support of SB 364, the Free School Meals for All Act. This state bill is in alignment with the pilot proposed by myself and my colleague Supervisor Joe Simitian early last year to shift from application-based to universal meal programs for our kids. The pilot was unanimously approved by our colleagues. Universal meals promote equity, access, reduce stigma and have been shown to improve school attendance and academic performance.

The need is real.

Second Harvest of Silicon Valley grew from providing food to 250,000 to 500,000 people a month over the last year—more than 9 million meals a month. San Jose Unified School District alone provided 1.8 million meals to children and families for the entire 2019-220 school year. Over the past year, we have seen lines for food at schools, mobile pantries and other food distribution sites. And consistent access to food isn’t needed only during a pandemic: our children should have access to free, healthy food every day so they can learn, grow and thrive.

Along with access to healthy food, our children also need access to a reliable connection to the internet, as distance learning made perfectly clear. In order to close this gap—or digital divide—I worked with Joint Venture Silicon Valley to expand infrastructure within our community’s “internet deserts.”

Just last month, the first pilot program launched in Campbell Union School District, connecting 300 families to broadband. And we’re just getting started.

The intent of these efforts is simple: ensure equity in access to health care, food and internet for all of our families in this county so we can all get to the other side of this pandemic healthier, happier, better supported and thriving.

I hope you’ll join this critical work!

Susan Ellenberg is the Santa Clara County District 4 supervisor. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].


  1. Have we touched bottom yet? Just six weeks after passing a toothless and feckless County “hazard pay” proposal to compensate supermarket and pharmacy workers for service beyond the call of duty during the pandemic, Supervisor Ellenberg is back to test the depths of legislative irrelevance. Readers may recall that the the Silicon Valley Chamber Coalition successfully intervened in February to insure that the Board of Supervisors hazard pay proposal was scaled back such that it would have “almost zero impact.” I asked at the time whether there could be a less meaningful or less effective County policy (https://sanjosespotlight.com/santa-clara-county-approves-scaled-back-hazard-pay-plan/#comment-42864).

    The answer to my question seems to be an emphatic “yes.” Ms. Ellenberg is now proposing to tackle an important public issue–Black womens’ birthing and maternal health. How? By awareness raising and organizing a Board of Supervisors’ letter to Democratic congressional leaders in support of federal legislation to address the issue. No need for serious legislation and no need for mobilization of public resources and efforts. No fuss, no muss.

    Ms. Ellenberg and her colleagues could have proposed an expansion of County-based health care services to tackle the very real inequities faced by Black and Hispanic women, other women of color, and working-class and poor women generally. To avoid insulting the intelligence of Black women and her other constituents, Ms. Ellenberg could have at least formulated a policy to address–or more fully address–health conditions of the approximately 11,465 County Black women of child-bearing are (15-50) (https://suburbanstats.org/race/california/santa-clara-county/how-many-black-or-african-american-people-live-in-santa-clara-county-california).

    Or even better, she could have done the same for all 459,000 County women aged 15-50 to address the issue comprehensively and holistically (https://censusreporter.org/data/table/?table=B01001&geo_ids=05000US06085, 04000US0601000US&primary_geo_id=05000US06085#valueType |estimate). Or at least do something for the approximately 21,000 County women who gave birth last year (https://censusreporter.org/data/table/?table=B13016&geo_ids=05000US06085, 04000US06, 01000US&primary_geo_id=05000US06085# valueType|estimate). Instead, we get virtue-signaling political theater of the most transparent variety. How much less relevant can County policy get?

  2. Supervisor Ellenberg’s second initiative is, like that regarding maternity health, nothing more than a Board of Supervisor joint letter to the California State Senate in support of a bill to require all school districts and charter schools in the state to provide two free meals to all kindergarten to 12-grade pupils requesting such meals. It does not require the Supervisors to lift a finger, bring in tax revenues in support of such a program, or legislate at the County level. It is more posturing and signaling. While she is at it, perhaps the Supervisor could organize a letter (or maybe just a joint Twitter message) on her/their support for weekends. I think such a letter or message would be well-received by her constituents.

    By the way, I too have looked into the Virginia gubernatorial race and have found my favorite candidate. It’s Lee Carter, Delegate from Virginia’s 50th District (https://carterforvirginia.com/issues/). Carter ran on an explicitly democratic socialist platform in 2017 and defeated the third-ranking Republican in the House of Delegates. He was re-elected in 2019 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_J._Carter).

    Carter’s positions on health care, education, women’s reproductive rights, the climate exigency, corporate funding of election campaigns (he takes no corporate money), affordable housing and, notably, workers’ rights are decidedly progressive. He introduced a bill to overturn the “right to work” laws that make Virginia one of the most hostile to organized labor in the U.S. Ms. Ellenberg’s pick for Virginia governor–one Jennifer Carroll Foy–sounds like a dead ringer for neoliberal corporate Democrat: long on rhetoric and posturing, short on substance that would relieve and improve the lives of working people and families (https://jennifercarrollfoy.com/).

    As they say, birds of a feather…

    Democratic Socialist

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