Harris pushes for task force addressing racial disparities in coronavirus pandemic

Harris pushes for task force addressing racial disparities in coronavirus pandemic
© Greg Nash

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBuilding back a better vice presidency Stacey Abrams nominated to board of solar energy firm Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE (D-Calif.) announced Thursday she is introducing legislation to create a task force that would address racial disparities related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Harris said she is introducing the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act to set up a body that would consist of health care and other policy experts, community-based organizations and federal, state and other leaders to address the disproportionate impact the virus has had on communities of color. 

“People of color are being infected and dying from coronavirus at astounding rates,” Harris said in a statement. “This is in part due to persistent lack of access to health care, bias in our health care system, systematic barriers to equal pay and housing, and environmental injustice.” 

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“The COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act is a necessary step to fully understand the impact of this virus in the hardest hit communities, and make targeted investments that correspond with their unique needs," she said.

The task force, which would be created under the Department of Health and Human Services, would make recommendations about directing resources including testing kits, testing supplies, and personal protective equipment to communities “with racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death rates.”

Rep. Robin KellyRobin Lynne KellyMore than 100 Democrats sign onto bill ensuring access to birth control CBC chair: Spending bill will include funds for HBCUs, housing, childcare Lawmakers seek answers on armed services' plans to address gun tracking MORE (D-Ill.) will introduce companion legislation in the House, and Harris has 16 co-sponsors in the Senate.

The legislation comes as lawmakers and activists voice concerns that communities of color represent a disproportionate number of coronavirus cases and are lacking the crucial tools needed to curb the pandemic’s spread.

Seventy percent of residents killed by the coronavirus in Louisiana were African American, though they make up only one-third of the state’s population. Black Americans also make up 40 percent of coronavirus deaths in Michigan and 75 percent of deaths in Milwaukee County, Wis., despite only making up 14 percent and 26 percent of the population in those locations, respectively. 

Activists praised Harris’s legislation, saying the task force will also help expose longstanding inequities that were only worsened by the pandemic. 

“Our country has long faced racial and ethnic disparities in virtually every facet of American life. COVID-19 has not only shed a light on these disparities but exacerbated them. Senator Harris's legislation will not only address the current inequities we see in the response to COVID-19, but it will begin to address the structural issues causing these disparities that have persisted for generations,” said Danyelle Solomon, vice president of Race and Ethnicity Policy at the Center for American Progress.