Gov. Edwards forms coronavirus task force

John Dupont
Plaquemine Post South

BATON ROUGE – The creation of the Louisiana COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force will further study the spread of the disease, along with the large number of cases in the African American community, Gov. John Bel Edwards said last week.

He commissioned the start of the task force after results showed that 70 percent of the coronavirus-related deaths came from the African American community, which only comprises 33 percent of the Louisiana population.

“By health equity, we mean everyone has the opportunity to attain their highest level of health,” Edwards said. “The task force will leverage our research capability and intellectual brain power in a collective manner to tackle this issue.”

Universities and research institution and medical community have been asked to lead the effort, he said.

The task force will involve representatives from Southern University’s Nelson Mandela School of Public Policy, Xavier University’s Department of Public Health Sciences, the health science centers at LSU and Tulane, LDH Office of Public Health, LDH Bureau of Minority Health Access, along with Pennington Biomedical Research Center and schools of nursing at universities all across the state.

The immediate assignment for the task force will be to ensure that communities with health disparities are blanketed with good information on COVID-19 safety and prevention, and to provide the medical community with the best practices and protocols for treating communities with underlying medical conditions and disparities, and to ensure testing availability and ease of access for all communities.

Health equity is the end goal, Edwards said.

The committee needs to define the social detriments of health disparity and how to ensure equity for all Louisiana Citizens.

“With this task force, we will be meeting this charge,” he said.

Dr. Ken Hunter Reed, Commissioner of Higher Education, has already sent inquiries to all universities, to identify their leading experts.

The research will lead to creation of a dashboard to determine health equity.

“This is something we can do now to minimize the spread of COVID19 across the state, and particularly in communities where members are most vulnerable,” Edwards said.

The state has only been able to identify racial disparity through mortality rate.

Very limited numbers of the COVID-19 tests include ethnicity because 90 percent of those screenings are conducted by private labs, Edwards said.

The limited testing sites in rural areas also poses a problem.

“Despite all the efforts we have made – huge efforts and largely successful – we either have the highest number per capita, or second, but we don’t have the amount of testing we’d like,” he said.

“This is particularly true in the rural areas, but there is no parish or region in the state that is not currently tested, but we don’t believe we have adequate testing anywhere, so we’re trying to improve that and get into the rural areas.”

The task force will ultimately serve all Louisiana residents, not only those of the African American race, Edwards said.

The studies will help identify underlying conditions that lead to poor health.

“People could have better behavior or maybe they drink three sodas a day rather than water,” he said. “We don’t know all answers to the questions, but that’s that this task force will look for.”