Biden COVID-19 Task Force Focused on Health Equity

President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Task Force is in full swing, and their main focus is tackling health equity.

On Jan. 21, 2021, Biden signed an executive order to create a task force focused on COVID-19 related health and social inequities.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague the country, it has had a disproportionate impact on some of our most vulnerable communities. Shortly after COVID-19 was first identified in the United States, disparities in testing, cases, hospitalizations, and mortality began to emerge. These inequities were quickly evident by race, ethnicity, geography, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other factors,” according to the White House press briefing.

As a result, the Biden administration selected people from diverse backgrounds and minority groups, including Latinos, to serve on the task force, who were sworn in on Feb. 26, 2021.

Now they’re getting to work on expanding data for high-risk populations, addressing health inequities, and providing the administration with recommendations on how to equitably allocate resources and pandemic relief funding.

How has the COVID-19 Task Force Changed Since its Creation?

Biden first formed a COVID-19 task force shortly after he was elected in November 2020.

This group was also diverse, with several Latinos helping advise the president on how to reduce COVID-19 infection rates.

Then shortly after being elected, the administration dissolved the group, as it was technically a federal advisory committee during the presidential transition and the rules don’t permit for committees to formally transition to administrative task forces.

After the inauguration, Biden formed a new COVID-19 task force, but narrowing the focus to health equity.

Who is in the COVID-19 Task Force?

The Biden administration selected 12 people to serve on the task force from a variety of backgrounds.

“[The task force members] represent a diversity of backgrounds and expertise, a range of racial and ethnic groups, and a number of important populations, including: children and youth; educators and students; health care providers, immigrants; individuals with disabilities; LGBTQ+ individuals; public health experts; rural communities; state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments; and unions,” according to the White House press briefing.

The task force is chaired by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine.

“Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of internal medicine, public health, and management at Yale, is one of the nation’s foremost experts on disparities in healthcare access. Since the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has called attention to the unequal burden borne by communities of color,” according to Yale News.

The members of the group are as follows:

  • Mayra Alvarez, president of The Children’s Partnership, a California-based organization that promotes child health equity
  • James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College, a historically Black academic health sciences center
  • Andrew Imparato, disability rights attorney and the executive director of Disability Rights California
  • Victor Joseph, former chairman of Tanana Chiefs Conference, a consortium of Alaska native people
  • Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the state of Michigan and the chief deputy director for health in the Michigan department of health and human services
  • Octavio Martinez Jr., executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at The University of Texas at Austin
  • Tim Putnam, president and CEO of Margaret Mary Health, a community hospital in Batesville, Indiana and former president of the National Rural Health Association
  • Vincent Toranzo, active student from Broward County in Florida and State Secretary of the Florida Association of Student Councils
  • Mary Turner, an ICU nurse at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association union
  • Homer Venters, epidemiologist with an expertise in incarceration and former Chief Medical Officer of the NYC Correctional Health Services
  • Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council
  • Haeyoung Yoon, senior policy director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance

There are a few Latino experts in the task force.

One is Mayra Alvarez, the president of the Children’s Partnership, an organization committed to improving the lives of underserved children. She has also worked in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama-Biden administration, including at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Office of Minority Health, and the Office of Health Reform.

Another Latino expert on the task force is Octavio Martinez, the Executive Director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at The University of Texas at Austin.  Martinez is also the former chair of the National Hispanic Council on Aging and a member of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

What does the COVID-19 Task Force Plan to Accomplish?

The COVID-19 task force has several agenda items this spring.

Ultimately, the group is meant to provide recommendations to the administration on how to address health inequities.

“This includes recommendations on equitable allocation of COVID-19 resources and relief funds, effective outreach and communication to underserved and minority populations, and improving cultural proficiency within the Federal Government,” according to the administration’s report titled the “National Strategy for COVID-10 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.”

According to the National Strategy for COVID-10 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, the group will focus on the following tasks:

  • Convene national experts on health equity, including those with lived experience
  • Provide recommendations to mitigate COVID-19 health inequities
  • Increase data collection and reporting for high risk groups
  • Expediting and streamlining data collection
  • Identify high-risk communities, track resource distribution and evaluate effectiveness
  • Increase reporting of federal data
  • Expand data collection for commercially insured populations
  • Reaffirm privacy post-collection of health data

Once a final report of recommendations is submitted to the administration, the task force will be dissolved.

“The Task Force’s work will conclude after issuing a final report to the COVID-19 Response Coordinator describing the drivers of observed COVID-19 inequities, the potential for ongoing disparities faced by COVID-19 survivors, and actions to ensure that future pandemic responses do not ignore or exacerbate health inequities,” according to the White House press briefing.

How Can I Stay Involved?

To keep up with the work of the COVID-19 task force, you can attend their public, virtual meetings.

They also encourage citizens to subscribe to a newsletter with updates from the COVID-19 task force.

Another way to help fight for equity in your community is by downloading Salud America’s Health Equity Report Card.

The report card allows you to see what access your community has to food, healthcare, education, and other resources. You can help advocate for your neighbors and present the Health Equity Report Card to your city’s leadership!


Image Credits: Images in main graphic credit to ABC News San Diego, Hartford Courant/Robert A Lisak, and Hogg Foundation.

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