Fairfax pitches task force to address racial disparities of COVID-19 in letter to Northam

Virginia News
Justin Fairfax

FILE – (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In a letter sent Tuesday to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, the state’s lieutenant governor proposed the creation of a statewide task force that would focus “on taking action to aggressively address and remedy” racial disparities in coronavirus cases across the commonwealth.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax cited data from the Virginia Department of Health on May 5 that, at the time, showed that black and Latino communities are disproportionately affected by the virus.

“Together, these two communities comprise 27.5% of Virginia’s population, but a striking 64.3% of overall COVID-19 cases,” Fairfax wrote.

Those percentages have grown since last week. As of May 12, Virginia has reported that 4,337 African Americans and 7,711 Latinos have been infected by the novel coronavirus. According to those figures, Virginia’s black community makes up 19.9% of the state’s population but 23.2% of cases and the state’s Latino community accounts for 43.4% of cases but comprises only 9.6% of the population.

The proposal suggests that the task force should work with places of worship to increase testing and treatment in minority communities, help deploy mobile testing units, give free personal protective equipment to small businesses and post “day-to-day point-of-service COVID-19 related multi-lingual healthcare information in under-served communities.”

Virginia has already developed the Health Equity Leadership Task Force, a committee led by Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Janice Underwood that aims to give vulnerable communities support during the pandemic.

“The Task Force provides localities with access to health equity training for all city employees and volunteers, personal protective equipment (PPE), culturally appropriate educational materials to support diverse communities, and support in identifying neighborhoods at elevated risk with mapping technology,” a release from the governor’s office said.

Fairfax’s request for a statewide panel comes as Virginia prepares to enter “phase one” of its reopening plan, which Northam will provide further details on during Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing.

Northam’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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