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THE GREAT HEALTH DIVIDE: 17 parishes identified as broadband deserts, grassroots group steps up for vulnerable population

Sleeves Up Avoyelles creates events to bring vaccinations to those underserved
Published: Apr. 26, 2021 at 6:30 PM CDT
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AVOYELLES PARISH, La. (KALB) - Access to broadband internet is one of the many inequities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Central Louisiana grassroots organizers say the vaccine rollout is proving to be more difficult in rural communities.

“We set up a hotline where people can call us and we can go into a software...where we make people appointments. That information is fed into the local health unit,” Liz Legar, organizer of Sleeves Up Avoyelles Parish, said. “We have also been knocking doors and neighborhoods. We do some walk-up registrations, so we’re looking for every possible way to knock down every barrier to get people vaccinated.”

According to data released Monday by the Louisiana Department of Health, Region 6 is 18.29% fully vaccinated. In Avoyelles Parish, the fully vaccinated rate is 18.32%.

Legar said many people living in rural areas experience poverty leading to poor health care outcomes. She said during the coronavirus pandemic internet access was critical for jobs, school and health, but much of Avoyelles Parish did not have broadband access.

“In such a poverty-stricken parish, we have the issue of people having to decide between food on the table or internet access,” she said. “And with poverty, comes a limit to access a lot of things, one being the internet, and this system was set up for people to make appointments for vaccines on the internet.”

A report by a coalition of non-profits and other groups like the Louisiana Budget Project and United Way identified 17 parishes in Louisiana as broadband deserts. A desert is a parish where there is 50% or less broadband coverage. More residents in Avoyelles, Grant, Allen, Winn and Beauregard parishes all have more citizens without access to broadband than those who do.

17 parishes have been identified as broadband deserts with less than 51% of residents having...
17 parishes have been identified as broadband deserts with less than 51% of residents having broadband access.(louisianapartnership.org)

“Not only is access a barrier but having the skills to be able to use it because the sites that you have to go to to obtain the vaccines can be difficult to navigate,” she said.

This ongoing legislative session includes bills to address broadband access. Legar would also like to see lawmakers across income disparities and include poverty in the equation.

“It’s a two-fold problem because infrastructure and accessibility is one thing but affordability has to be there as well.”

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