Cooper’s COVID-19 order directs efforts to fix NC racial disparity

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper has unveiled a state commission and other initiatives to address socioeconomic and health disparities for African Americans and Latinos in North Carolina underscored during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cooper announced on Thursday a task force that will collect information and identify solutions to health access issues, economic opportunities for minority-owned business, education and environmental justice.

Cooper pointed to disproportionate numbers of black and Hispanic residents diagnosed with the coronavirus. The task force will be led by state Administration Secretary Machelle Sanders.

As of Thursday, 31,966 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in North Carolina, 659 people were hospitalized and 960 people have died.

In North Carolina, African Americans make up approximately 22% of the population. But as of June 1, they account for 30% of the confirmed COVID-19 cases and 34% of COVID-19 deaths.

Latinos are just 10% of the population, yet they make up 39% of COVID-19 confirmed cases.

“These statistics are alarming, and they are not acceptable,” Cooper said.

The task force will focus on five areas:

  • Access to health care
  • Patient engagement in health care settings
  • Economic opportunities in business development and employment
  • Environmental justice and inclusion
  • Education

Department of Administration Secretary Machelle Sanders will lead the group.

”My order directs the North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office to ensure that COVID-19 relief funds are fairly distributed,” Cooper said. “It also expands the capacity of our North Carolina Historically Underutilized Business Office to provide those businesses access to opportunities and resources.”

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Cooper said minority and marginalized communities are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions, including diabetes, kidney disease, obesity and asthma. The data shows these underlying health conditions significantly increase a person’s risk for a severe COVID-19 infection.

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Expanding Medicaid is something North Carolina should’ve done years ago, Cooper said.

He said he will work to close the health care gap.

“My administration is committed to eliminating disparities,” Cooper said. “We will keep listening. We will continue to work with communities all across our state to address systemic injustice.”

Learn more about the executive order here.