Louisiana task force looks to address racial and economic disparities in COVID-19 outcomes

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

A Louisiana task force Gov. John Bel Edwards formed to address racial and economic disparities in COVID-19 outcomes held its first meeting Friday.

Participants agreed the outbreak was shining a light on longstanding problems and said they hoped to identify solutions that would lead to a healthier state long after the coronavirus crisis is over.

Though black people make up about 32 percent or so of Louisiana’s population, more than 56 percent of state residents who have died from COVID-19 were black, state officials say. Other states have noticed similar disparities.

“This task force is a call to action,” said Sandra Brown, dean of Southern University’s College of Nursing and Allied Health and co-chair of the Louisiana COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.

Brown said increasing testing in communities where the new coronavirus is prevalent is an important short-term goal. She expressed concern about the health of frontline workers being exposed to the virus once more sectors of the economy start to open up.

Improving access to fresh foods to give people currently living in “food deserts” a better chance to eat healthy also is important, said Southern University Ag Center chancellor-dean Orlando McMeans.

People who have chronic health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity are at greater risk of serious complications from COVID-19. So another early goal will be making sure people who have those conditions know the risk, task force members said.

Theron Jackson, pastor with Morning Star Baptist Church in Shreveport, said he considered himself an “interpreter” that would help the task force communicate with the public, since “not everyone speaks health care.”

Along with preexisting health conditions, “discrimination, racism and income inequality” should be considered risk factors, Jackson said.

The Irene W & C.B. Pennington Family Foundation, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation donated a total of $500,000 to help the task force get started, Edwards’ office says.

The task force met online, and Brown joined Edwards’ COVID-19 press conference afterward.