Murphy signs legislation to create COVID-19 task force to study racial and health disparities

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Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has signed legislation that will create a COVID-19 Pandemic Task Force to study racial and health disparities in minority communities.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted our minority communities and we must work together to eliminate the existing racial disparities in health care,” the governor 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 law (formerly bill A-4004) creates a 23-member Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic Task Force on Racial and Health Disparities in the New Jersey Department of Health.

The group will conduct a thorough and comprehensive study of how and why the pandemic has affected minority and vulnerable communities in New Jersey, as well as the short and long-term consequences for these communities.

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 legislature concurred with Murphy’s conditional veto.

The bill was sponsored by state Senators Sandra Cunningham (D-31) and Nellie Pou (D-35), while and Assemblywomen Shavonda Sumter (D-35), Angelica Jimenez (D-32), and Linda Carter (D-22).

“The COVID-19 pandemic ravaged minority communities throughout the United States. 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,” added Cunningham.

“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.”

Additionally, the task force will evaluate the communication, messaging and dissemination of information regarding testing, contact tracing, and other related public health approaches necessary to achieve health care equity and cultural competence.

It will also assess other issues such as the impact of COVID-19 on mental and physical health of essential workers; access to childcare services; and the prevalence of intimate partner violence, among others.

Additionally, the task force will include 14 public members appointed by the governor, some of which will be selected based upon recommendations from the legislature, and others based upon certain requirements stipulated in the bill.

The remaining nine members will be from various relevant state departments.

“This public health crisis has exacerbated deep inequities across New Jersey, particularly racial health disparities. Communities of color have shouldered a large burden in this pandemic and will undoubtedly need unique assistance to recover,” noted Jimenez.

“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.”