Senator Kamala Harris Introduces Bill To Address COVID-19 Racial Disparities

Supermajority Education Fund

May 11, 2020

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) announced she’ll introduce legislation that would create a new coronavirus task force dedicated to examining the impact of the virus on communities of color. The COVID-19 Racial Disparities Task Force Act would require the Department of Health and Human Services to form a panel of health experts and community leaders to study why the disease is disproportionately affecting Americans of color. The new task force would also generate recommendations as to how to protect those communities from being further devastated by the spread of COVID-19.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began, public health officials across the country have observed that it has disproportionately affected Black, Latino, and Native American communities. Newly released data from New York State revealed that Black and Hispanic New Yorkers made up 60 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the state, which means that those populations are twice as likely to die from the disease than white New Yorkers. Similar health disparities have been observed in other major metropolitan areas currently struggling with the outbreak.

“The disproportionate impact is no doubt a reflection of persistent income disparities, lower access to health care, and generations of environmental injustice that make communities of color more vulnerable to the virus,” Harris said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.

To create an effective strategy to combat the spread of the illness in vulnerable populations, “there need to be targeted strategies with clear solutions that are tailored to address some of the challenges,” these communities face, Jamila Taylor, the director of health care reform and senior fellow at The Century Foundation, told Supermajority News

To successfully address these disparities, Taylor noted, the task force would also have to examine the institutional barriers many people of color face in the healthcare system, including being “minimized by healthcare providers who don’t listen to us.” Taylor added that one reason Brooklyn teacher Rana Zoe Mungin’s recent death garnered so much attention was that she had repeatedly tried to get treatment after coming down with coronavirus symptoms.

“She had tried to get a test for COVID-19 three times before she was admitted to the hospital with serious complications,” said Taylor. “All of those issues are related to the underlying problem of structural racism and the impact it has on health care.”

To fully address these disparities, Taylor said, the task force needs to examine the effects the lack of universal healthcareaccessible childcare, and universal paid leave have on public health as well. “People of color make the majority of these front line workers,” combatting the virus, said Taylor. “If we have those things in place to protect the most vulnerable among us — whether it is vulnerability to poor health conditions and even some of the economic challenges they face — we would be better off in the coming weeks and months.”