As the COVID-19 public health emergency continues, new data show the disproportionate rate in which the virus has affected communities of color and vulnerable populations. To address these concerns, several states have created task forces to specifically look at COVID-19 and racial disparities.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) released an executive order creating the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities as an advisory board within the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. African Americans, which represent 13.6 percent of the state’s population, account for 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths. Among several charges from Whitmer, the task force will:
- study racial disparities of COVID-19 in Michigan and recommend action to overcome the disparities;
- recommend actions to increase transparency in reporting data regarding the racial and ethnic impact of COVID-19 and remove barriers to accessing physical and mental health services; and
- ensure stakeholders are informed, educated, and empowered with information on the racial disparities.
Gov. Mike DeWine (R) formed the Minority Health Strike Force to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority populations in the state. According to data from the Ohio Department of Health, 21 percent of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Ohio are African American, although they only make up approximately 14 percent of the state’s population.
Gov. John Bell Edwards (D) created the Louisiana COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to address racial disparities related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor allotted $500,000 from the state’s coronavirus relief fund to the task force so it can examine the causes and identify possible solutions for the high rate of deaths within the state’s African-American community and other impacted populations. African Americans, which make up approximately 33 percent of the state population, account for nearly 60 percent of the deaths from this virus.
Update on Stay-At-Home Orders, Recovery
The National Association of State Health Policy (NASHP) developed a tracker to show which states have stay-at-home orders and when states intend on reopening businesses and resuming elective medical procedures.
Only five states across the country have no stay-at-home orders in place in response to COVID-19: Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Oklahoma has a stay-at-home order only for elderly individuals and vulnerable populations.
In the tracker, NASHP also includes information about resuming non-essential medical, surgical, and dental procedures:
- As of mid-May, five states and the District of Columbia have no date for resuming non-essential services: Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New Mexico;
- Five states have left this decision up to individual providers and hospitals: Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin; and
- North Dakota and South Dakota never implemented restrictions on non-essential procedures.
States Plan for CARES Funding
In late March, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which included $150 billion for states to use on necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency. States have the authority to allocate this funding how they see fit, and several states have begun to do so.
On May 18, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) described funding distributions from the CARES Act, including:
- $300 million to reimburse state agencies;
- up to $250 million to reimburse local governments;
- up to $250 million to support the delivery of coronavirus-related health care and related services to state residents;
- up to $200 million for the Department of Corrections; and
- $5 million to reimburse the State General Fund for supplemental appropriations to the Alabama Department of Health.
Meanwhile, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) on May 20 announced a $400 million economic relief and recovery package, using a portion of the $1.25 billion the state received from the CARES Act. The package includes a two-phase approach, directing $310 million of the funds for immediate emergency relief to the most impacted sectors and businesses, followed by $90 million for long-term recovery efforts. The first allocation includes:
- $250 million in emergency grants for food, retail, agriculture, and small business services;
- $50 million in housing assistance through a Rental Housing Stabilization Fund;
- $5 million for technical assistance to make Restart Vermont Recovery Guides and to form an employee assistance fund to support mental health; and
- $5 million for marketing assistance to encourage Vermont residents to spend locally.
While these states already started to plan distribution of CARES Act funds, others formed task forces to explore best approaches, including:
- Kansas’ Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) task force;
- Montana’s Coronavirus Relief Fund Task Force; and
- Oklahoma’s bipartisan legislative advisory group.