- Department of Public Health
- COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group
Media Contact for Department of Public Health releases recommendations of COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group to address pandemic’s impact on communities of color
Omar Cabrera, Manager of Ethnic Media and Community Outreach
Boston — To address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and marginalized populations, the Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group today released new data and specific recommendations to inform the state’s ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response.
The advisory group recommendations were released with new data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) that highlight marked differences in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths for different races and ethnicities. Black non-Hispanics and Hispanics have a 3x higher positive COVID-19 case rate than White non-Hispanics. Black non-Hispanics and Hispanics also have higher rates of hospitalizations. Age-adjusted mortality rates show these groups are bearing a higher burden of COVID deaths compared to the White or Asian populations. Nine of the ten cities and towns with the highest rates of COVID infection are also communities where more than half the residents identify as people of color.
Convened by Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH, the COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group includes 26 community leaders, health and racial equity experts, and members of communities and populations disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The advisory group’s mission was to inform the state’s COVID response by recommending actions aimed at equitable access to health care resources and services, and prevention of inequities and disproportionate negative outcomes.
“We have long understood that racism is a public health issue that demands action, and the disproportionate impacts of this new disease on communities of color and other priority populations is the latest indicator change is necessary,” said Commissioner Bharel, who chaired the advisory group. “At the Department of Public Health, our mission is to eliminate health inequities and we place equity at the core of all that we do.”
The group, which met throughout the month of May, selected four critical areas that needed to be to addressed: Data and Metrics, COVID-19 Mitigation, Community Engagement, and the Social Determinants of Health.
“Our approach to COVID-19 and future health challenges should be to strengthen the underlying health of the Commonwealth,” said Thea James, MD, Vice President of Mission and Associate Chief Medical Officer, Boston Medical Center. “We can do this by building resilient communities and taking a critical look at how systemic racism has influenced disinvestment in communities of color. These recommendations are a starting point for taking concrete next steps into action for a more equitable future.”
Key recommendations include:
- Continuing to disaggregate COVID data across populations and sectors, such as transit usage.
- Increasing equitable distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential workers and Commonwealth residents in professions most at risk.
- Implement policies that increase housing stability for populations disproportionally impacted by COVID-19.
- Prioritizing investment in multilingual outreach to communities to increase access to testing, home and workplace protections, and access to state assistance programs.
- Planning and implementing a strategy for the active engagement and representation of existing community based organizations in the most-impacted communities as part of decision-making processes related to COVID-19 response and recovery.
“This unique public/private partnership brought together Department of Public Health leadership and voices from the community, not only to share what we are witnessing – a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 by race, ethnicity and geography – but to take action on that information,” said Juan Lopera, vice president of business diversity at Tufts Health Plan, a member of the Advisory Group as well as the Governor’s Latino Advisory Commission. “It is our fervent hope that these recommendations inform our collective response to the pandemic and our planning for the future.”