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Murphy signs laws to set up a COVID-19 Task Force to Investigate Racial and Health Differences

Governor Phil Murphy (D) has signed a law that will create a COVID-19 pandemic task force to investigate racial and health disparities in minority communities.

By John Heinis / Hudson County View

“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit our minority communities disproportionately and we must work together to address the existing racial disparities in healthcare,” the governor said in a statement.

“The revisions sent back to lawmakers further strengthen this bill and will bring together the perspectives and expertise needed to achieve equity and meaningful health care reform.”

The bill (formerly Draft A-4004) creates a 23-member Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic Task Force on Racial and Health Differences in the New Jersey Department of Health.

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

Last month, the bill was returned to lawmakers with recommendations to strengthen the task force by adding additional members, including representatives from the Civil Rights Department and the Consumer Affairs Department, both within the Department of Justice and Public Security.

Legislators agreed to Murphy’s conditional veto.

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

“The COVID-19 pandemic devastated minority communities in the United States. Predominantly black counties make up only 30 percent of the US population and yet they have been the site of 56 percent of COVID-19 deaths, “added Cunningham.

“To be effective in helping these communities and preventing this from happening again in the future, we need to understand why the pandemic hit them so hard and develop long-term strategies to address health inequalities.”

In addition, the task force will assess the communication, messaging and dissemination of information regarding testing, contact tracing and other related public health approaches needed to achieve equity and cultural literacy in health care.

It will also assess other topics such as the impact of COVID-19 on the mental and physical health of key workers; Access to child care services; and the prevalence of intimate partner violence, among others.

In addition, the Task Force will include 14 governor-appointed public members, some of whom will be selected based on recommendations from the legislature and others based on certain requirements set out in the draft law.

The remaining nine members will come from various relevant state authorities.

“This public health crisis has exacerbated deep inequalities across New Jersey, particularly racial health inequalities. Colored communities have taken a huge burden in this pandemic and will undoubtedly need unique help to recover, “noted Jimenez.

“The work of this task force will help us get a clearer picture of the magnitude of the pressures of the pandemic on these communities and continue our efforts to promote health equity for all.”