Governor Chris Sununu has established a new task force that will recommend a plan to address the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on communities of color in New Hampshire.
According to the most recent data from the state, black and Latino residents are testing positive at higher rates than their share of the population. That follows national trends on who’s been most affected by the virus.
NHPR's Morning Edition Rick Ganley spoke with Rogers Johnson, who has been appointed to serve on the new task force. Johnson is also the chairman for the Governor's Taskforce on Diversity and Inclusion.
Rick Ganley: Rogers, The Taskforce on Diversity and Inclusion sent the governor a letter about three weeks ago asking him to establish this new group. What are you hoping that this new task force will accomplish within the next month?
Rogers Johnson: The real accomplishment will be to focus on the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 to the minority community, but more importantly, focus resources to that community so that they can be more adequately taken care of concerning the fact that they're, like I said, adversely affected by the virus.
Rick Ganley: And when we say adversely affected, in what way?
Rogers Johnson: Because of their comorbidities, they have a higher propensity to get the disease and also have a higher propensity to actually die from this disease. So what we need to do is to upgrade testing, upgrade their PPE and to make sure that they're more adequately taken care of as opposed to the majority community.
Rick Ganley: What would you like to see the state do immediately?
Rogers Johnson: Begin testing where you find people of color to make sure that the disease is not spread within that community.
Rick Ganley: And what are you going to be considering as as you go through this month and the task force?
Rogers Johnson: Actually, what we're going to be considering is one of the things that are really affecting them to the degree that they can't contend with this as opposed to any other community. For example, do they have access to PPE? Most people seemed to be able to get a mask. But is that really true within the minority community? Do we have to provide those masks?
Do we have to provide testing? Do we have to provide treatment to that community? Because their living situation may not be conducive to prevent the spread of the disease. So we have to be more proactive. More importantly, we need to do something such as education, how to prevent it, and how to really mitigate against the situation where they have a higher comorbidity possibility because of lifestyle. These things are issues that we need to adequately address the factors that are causing this this problem within communities of color.
Rick Ganley: I know the inequities contributing to this effect are longstanding. Some of the examples outlined in the council's letter include, you know, access to technology, language barriers. What would you like to see from the state long term to address those issues, not only during the pandemic, but again after?
Rogers Johnson: What we'd like to do is see that there's a better partnership in providing the mechanism by which individuals have access to information. That means that translators are available when needed, equipment is available when needed. The barriers for connectivity to the Internet are taken down.
Rick Ganley: The original letter sent by the Taskforce on Diversity Inclusion to the governor said only 20 percent of black workers and 16 percent of Latino workers nationwide have been able to work from home. As restrictions are lifted, and you know, the state continues to reopen business, do you have concerns about how this is going to contribute to this effect on minority communities, this disproportionate effect?
Rogers Johnson: Well, it's already contributed to the disproportionate effect because the number of essential workers happen to have a higher propensity to be people of color. Because of that their exposure rate is much higher. Therefore, we need to find better ways of protecting these individuals so that we, once again, don't introduce the virus into communities of color. We need to be more cognizant of that. And because we're going to be focusing on those issues, we can bring a higher amount of understanding on how to deal.
Rick Ganley: And again, for you, it comes down to outreach, and access and education.
Rogers Johnson: You are correct.