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Health Equity Task Force Meeting Readouts

Readout of the Fifth COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Meeting

On Friday, June 25, COVID-19 Health Equity Chair Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, held the fifth COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force meeting to consider interim recommendations addressing the inequities and the impact of long-COVID or Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), and access to personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and therapeutics.

Dr. Nunez-Smith opened the meeting by calling for a better understanding of the potential for inequities in the burden of long COVID--and access to PPE, testing and therapeutics. “We have been listening to and learning from community members about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on their lives. Many people with long-COVID symptoms have felt alone in their suffering, without recognition from the medical community or sufficient access to assistance programs. Updating clinical guidance to providers is critical. And research is a must. Those who are under the chronic stress of poverty, who have already been severely affected by this pandemic, will continue to need proactive support to achieve wellness”.

Task Force members heard from two subject matter experts. Dr. Bruce Siegal, President & CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals, highlighted ways to improve the quality of care for marginalized populations. Dr. Margot Gage Witvliet, a social epidemiology professor living with long-COVID, advocated for more inclusive research, policies and treatments for people living with long-COVID.

Task Force Members discussed and voted favorably on interim recommendations. These included but were not limited to:

  • Creating more inclusive disability policies that recognize long-COVID as a health condition, irrespective of whether individuals receive a positive test for acute COVID infection, for which they were or were not hospitalized.
  • Creating a national coordination of research standards and a standardized method to disseminate research, diagnostic, and therapeutic practices related to long-COVID.
  • Executing a robust, national communication and education campaign to build awareness, educate, and solicit more data from the public on long-COVID.
  • Maintaining an adequate national stockpile and creating a rapid emergency production plan for PPE for healthcare providers and all essential workers.
  • Creating data transparency related to the demographics of those receiving therapeutics and providing public health intervention funding to address barriers to care.

Dr. Nunez-Smith closed the meeting with remarks on the importance of addressing COVID-19 and other health inequities at the structural level. “As we anchor our work as a Task Force, we are mindful of the scores of families and communities across the country who are grieving the loss of loved ones to this pandemic. For whom a return to an old normal isn’t possible. In order to honor the lives we have lost, we must continue to not only center equity in our response to and recovery from this pandemic, but also work to address the root causes of health disparities in this country”.

To watch the full recording of the fifth COVID-19 Health Task Force Meeting, please use the following links:



Readout of the Fourth COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Meeting

On Friday, May 28, COVID-19 Health Equity Chair Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, convened the fourth COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to discuss the Biden-Harris Administration’s actions to mitigate the health inequities caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and to prevent such inequities in the future. This meeting specifically addressed the impact of discrimination and xenophobia on health, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Nunez-Smith opened the meeting with remarks on the importance of addressing COVID-19 and other health inequities at the structural level. “A long history of racialized and targeted policies and practices in this country -- in housing, nutrition, education, healthcare, policing, immigration, and employment -- has functioned to marginalize too many, systematically limiting access to opportunity. That history remains all too present in the current COVID-19 landscape-- communities of color have been over-represented in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths--- and under-represented in access to life-saving therapies and vaccinations. The imperative is clear—we must name and urgently address these realities."

The Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, continued the conversation with Dr. Nunez-Smith to address the link between COVID-19 and the systemic racism and xenophobia that racial minorities have been facing during the pandemic and long before. The conversation centered on both the experience of the pandemic and the concrete steps that we should as individuals and as a society to create a more connected community.

During the meeting, Task Force members heard presentations and discussed how discrimination and xenophobia put minoritized, marginalized and medically underserved communities at risk, including during the pandemic. Task Force members considered ways in which agencies and state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) officials can best respond to and mitigate against xenophobia and discrimination in the United States.

Task Force Members discussed and voted favorably on short-term, as well as long-term interim recommendations focused on:

  • Developing and disseminating new resources and training for state, tribal, territorial and local law enforcement and first responders on how to identify pandemic-related hate- or bias-motivated incidents.
  • Improving the current hate crime data infrastructure by creating a coordination mechanism on hate crime data collection, standardization and publication.
  • Incentivizing and promoting research to understand healthcare discrimination and developing better methods of quantifying healthcare discrimination.
  • Collaborating with state, tribal, territorial, and local law enforcement partners to implement best practices for reporting pandemic-related hate- or bias-related incidents.
  • Mandating large-scale, rigorous research on the prevalence, patterns, causes, and long-term implications of COVID-19 related discrimination, ensuring disaggregated data is prioritized to capture the diversity of minoritized communities.
  • Creating best practices for a national narrative, including terminology and rhetoric used by media and politicians, around the portrayal of minoritized populations, immigrants, refugees, and asylees as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To watch the full recording of the fourth COVID-19 Health Task Force Meeting, please use the following links:



Readout of the Third COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Meeting

On Friday, May 1, COVID-19 Health Equity Chair, Marcella Nunez-Smith convened the third COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to discuss the Biden-Harris Administration's approach to mitigate the health inequities caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future. This meeting specifically covered mental and behavioral health.

Dr. Nunez-Smith opened the meeting with remarks about the importance of advancing behavioral health equity. "COVID-19 inequities experienced by minoritized and marginalized communities also manifest in suffering from grief, stress, and economic worry. This is an issue that touches virtually every community and countless families. We need to change today's reality that behavioral wellness is elusive for far too many."

HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, provided updates on the critical steps the Department has taken to expand access to mental health and substance use disorder. "Addressing the COVID-19 mental and behavioral health impacts on vulnerable and disenfranchised populations are among the top priorities of the Biden-Harris administration."

During the meeting, Task Force members heard presentations and discussed how agencies and state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) officials can best allocate mental and behavioral health resources, in light of disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and mortality in certain communities and disparities in COVID-19 outcomes by race, ethnicity, and other factors.

Task Force Members discussed and voted favorably on short-term, as well as, long-term interim recommendations focused on:

  • How federal agencies and SLTT officials can best allocate mental and behavioral health resources to engage with underserved communities to improve healthcare access and quality care to appropriately address inequities;
  • Mandating comprehensive, standardized data related to mental health and substance use disorders to ensure robust analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on the behavioral health of all communities, especially marginalized, minoritized, and underserved communities, and providing incentives to improve surveillance through data collection, sharing and analytics for equitable outcomes;
  • Increasing access to quality behavioral health services through culturally responsive interventions and resources during the pandemic to address crises and related behavioral health needs; and increase funding to Medicaid and Medicare providers that serve marginalized populations including BIPOC communities, youth and healthcare workers;
  • Build a Presidential public awareness campaign to address the mental health and substance use disorder impacts from the pandemic, and engage public-private entities to address the behavioral health inequities across the life span, mainly through youth leadership;
  • Address the syndemic social drivers of behavioral health inequities related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including housing, transportation, job, food and nutrition security;
  • Protect workers through the President's American Jobs plan to create jobs with sustainable wages and benefits.

To watch the full recording of the third COVID-19 Health Task Force Meeting, please use the following links:



Readout of the Second COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Meeting

On Friday, COVID-19 Health Equity Chair, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith convened the second COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to discuss the Biden-Harris Administration’s whole-of-society approach to mitigate the health inequities caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future. This meeting specifically covered vaccine access and confidence.

Dr. Nunez-Smith opened the meeting with these powerful words, “As a Task Force we take our charge very seriously. We will continue to push for the disaggregated and targeted data that are necessary for a data driven response…and we will elevate the positive assets and wisdom, often ignored or undervalued in the hardest hit communities as we generate recommendations and guidance.”

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra shared his commitment to address health equity stating, “…equity will be a part of everything we do at HHS—whether it’s dealing with vaccine confidence in some of our communities, or whether it’s making sure we produce data that tells us what to do in regards to healthcare—we make sure we include everyone in those surveys and sample projects …”

During the meeting Task Force members heard three presentations that focused on:

  • Equity in COVID-19 Vaccinations: Understanding and Addressing Gaps;
  • Achieving Health Equity for Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Communities; and
  • Equitable Vaccine Access for People with Disabilities.

“There is a clear sign of the commitment from President Joe Biden to make equity and health equity a top priority for this Administration. So, I thank each and every one of you that are a part of this Task force for the work that you are going to do. It will inform not just this Administration, but for years to come, where this country goes,” Secretary Becerra said.

Task Force Members discussed and voted affirmatively on short-term, as well as, long-term interim recommendations focused on specifically:

  • How federal agencies and State, local, Tribal, and territorial officials can best allocate COVID-19 resources to improve healthcare access and quality care to appropriately address inequities related to vaccines’ access and acceptance;
  • Coordinating across federal agencies, State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities to advance culturally responsive communications that are sensitive to their concerns about COVID-19 vaccines in ways to improve equitable access and acceptance rates;
  • How to advance cultural competency, language access, and sensitivity towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the context of addressing structural drivers of Xenophobia, Racism and Discriminations against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; and improving COVID-19 vaccines’ access and acceptance within the communities; and
  • Expediting data collection for communities of color and other underserved populations, and identifying data sources, proxies, or indices that address data shortfalls and other foundational data challenges, including those relating to data intersectionality that must be tackled in order for the nation to better prepare and equitably respond to future pandemics.

To watch the full recording of the second COVID-19 Health Task Force Meeting, please use the following links:

7/19/2021 9:57:00 AM