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Report: Pandemic exposed sweeping racial inequality in Pa.

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, along with Second Lady Gisele Fetterman, left, visit the York County YMCA to announce the findings of the Wolf Administration’s COVID-19 Response Task Force for Health Disparity, Thursday, August 13, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing health and economic disparities among minority populations, and a wide range of policies are needed to bolster vulnerable populations, according to a report from the state's COVID-19 task force.

In York on Thursday, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman detailed the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Response Task Force's report on health disparities. It identified six key issues disproportionately affecting the state's minority communities and laid out 57 policy proposals to ensure the population can bounce back.

"The COVID pandemic has been a great amplifier of inequality," Fetterman said at the York YMCA. "And that's what we've seen across the board."

More:Coronavirus pandemic: Here's what York County's data looks like

More:York County's COVID-19 death toll hits 100

The 34-page report specifically focuses on housing, criminal justice, food insecurity, health disparities, education and economic opportunities. 

Governor Tom Wolf, center, along with Second Lady Gisele Fetterman, left, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, right, visit the York County YMCA to announce the findings of the Wolf Administration’s COVID-19 Response Task Force for Health Disparity, Thursday, August 13, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

As for education, one of the most-debated topics during the pandemic, the report calls for the standardization of remote learning and improved access to technology. It also builds on growing calls for the expansion of broadband internet service.

In addition, the report recommends increasing the income threshold for food assistance to increase access to food for the state's vulnerable populations.

"This pandemic of COVID-19 has actually magnified what we call the social determinants of health and the disparities that our communities face," said state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

The task force's findings also led to recommendations that the state implement a retroactive driver's license amnesty program for nondriving-related offenses.

Stripping licenses, Fetterman said, hinders individuals' abilities to travel and forces them to use mass transit, which puts them at greater risk of virus transmission. 

Fetterman also emphasized that minority-owned businesses impacted by COVID-19 mitigation efforts need further direct and expedited assistance.

Records of any evictions that occurred during the pandemic should also be sealed, he said. In Pennsylvania, eviction records exist the moment a case is filed against someone, regardless of its outcome.

Governor Tom Wolf, right, along with Second Lady Gisele Fetterman, left, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine visit the York County YMCA to announce the findings of the Wolf Administration’s COVID-19 Response Task Force for Health Disparity, Thursday, August 13, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Death rate: The pandemic's disproportionate impact on minority communities has been made clear nationwide, particularly in death data.

In Pennsylvania, Black individuals make up more than 21% of all deaths in the state, even though  they make up just 12% of the state's population, according to the task force report.

But the impact on Black and brown communities could be even worse, because race data as of July was unavailable for more than 50,000 cases.

Levine said that was because just more than 60% of lab reports contain racial data. While that's up from the 20% to 30% that reported race in the early stages of the pandemic, "that's not good enough," she said.

Just suggestions: The task force's report to bolster those groups can be viewed as mere suggestions. In the end, many of the policies would require legislative approval.

Gov. Tom Wolf, though, said that the state needs to act quickly.

"This cannot be a plan that ends up being shelved and we just trot it out every once in a while," Wolf said. "We have to actually do something now. And I think the time is right to do that."

As of noon Thursday, there were 2,751 cases of COVID-19 and 100 deaths linked to the disease in York County.

Statewide, there were 122,121 cases and 7,409 deaths.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.