coronavirus in new jersey

NJ Creates COVID-19 Pandemic Task Force on Racial and Health Disparities

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New Jersey is on its way to having a COVID-19 task force focusing on racial and health disparities.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation of Friday creating the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic Task Force on Racial and Health Disparities.

Last month, the bill was returned to the Legislature with recommendations to strengthen the task force by adding additional members, including representation from the Division on Civil Rights and the Division of Consumer Affairs, both in the Department of Law and Public Safety.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted our minority communities and we must work together to eliminate the existing racial disparities in health care,” Murphy said in a statement. “The revisions sent back to the Legislature further strengthen this bill and will bring together the perspectives and expertise necessary to achieve equity and meaningful healthcare reform.”

The bill was sponsored by Senators Sandra Cunningham and Nellie Pou and Assemblywomen Shavonda Sumter, Angelica Jimenez and Linda Carter.

“The COVID-19 pandemic ravaged minority communities throughout the United States,” Sen. Sandra Cunningham, who co-sponsored the bill, said. “Predominantly Black counties account for only 30 percent of the U.S. population, and yet they were the location of 56 percent of COVID-19 deaths. In order to effectively help these communities and prevent this from happening again in the future, we must understand why the pandemic hit them so hard and come up with long-lasting strategies to eradicate health disparities.”

Sen. Nellie Pou, who also sponsored the bill, said echoed similar sentiments calling the pandemic a "tragedy" and saying we must learn from the lesson it brought us, particularly when it comes to the health of vulnerable populations.

"The tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the importance of addressing racial and ethnic health care disparities,” Pou said. “We should take the lessons of this tragedy and learn from them. Inequalities in care and treatment for communities of color and our most vulnerable populations are unacceptable, and establishing this task force is a positive step towards safeguarding all of our residents, regardless of race, ethnicity or geography, during the remainder of the COVID crisis, and in the days and years to come.”

Sumter meanwhile stated that healthcare disparities among minorities were already a reality before the pandemic, however, the pandemic aggravated the matter, impacting these communities at a much higher level.

“Long before the COVID-19 pandemic began, people of color faced enormous disparities in our healthcare system,” Sumter said. “African-American and Latino mothers saw higher mortality rates. A disproportionate number of minority families lacked access to health insurance and care. Communities of color have been impacted by COVID-19 at an alarming rate. We need to understand how and why these disparities are happening, and what we can do to mitigate the harm this pandemic has caused.”

Jimenez contended the same saying that "public health crisis has exacerbated deep inequities across New Jersey, particularly racial health disparities," while adding that "the work of this task force will help us get a clearer picture of the extent of the pandemic’s toll on these communities and continue our efforts to promote health equity for all.”

Meanwhile, in a statement Carter went on to say: “As our state recovers from this public health and economic crisis, we must begin asking ourselves some tough questions, including why this pandemic is disproportionately affecting people of color...We must take action to end inequalities that impact social determinants of health like access to healthcare, work opportunities and transportation.” 

A study published last year found that although COVID-19 has ravaged the country, minorities were disproportionately impacted by the virus.

Severe cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, are disproportionately affecting African American communities, according to a report published in April 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The analysis included data from 1,482 coronavirus patients hospitalized in 14 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah.

Among the 580 patients for whom race or ethnicity information was available, 45 percent were white and 33 percent were black, NBC News reports.

When researchers factored in the racial breakdowns of people living in those 14 states, disparities became apparent.

Despite accounting for more than a third of the cases, African Americans make up just 18 percent of those states’ populations.

In contrast, the white population in those states is 59 percent, yet accounts for only 45 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 cases in the CDC report.

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