Gov. Tony Evers, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Population Health Institute (PHI) at UW-Madison announced the Just Recovery for Racial Equity Initiative on Sept. 30, which hopes to respond to disparities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just Recovery will work to identify and support strategies for responding to COVID-19, recovery efforts and building resilience in communities of color by partnering with community-based organizations and local groups, including other government and social service agencies.
The initiative will receive $2.6 million in funding to provide grants to community-based organizations as well as staffing, translation services and program evaluation administered by the Population Health Institute.
“COVID-19 has had a devastating and disproportionate impact on communities of color across the state of Wisconsin,” said Gov. Evers. “We must take urgent and meaningful action to change that, and the Just Recovery initiative gives us the opportunity to mobilize community-based organizations to partner in this important work.”
Paula Tran Inzeo, the Mobilizing Action Towards Community Health (MATCH) Director at the Population Health Institute, described the role that the institute will play in the initiative.
“The Population Health Institute will administer the program. This includes staffing, engagement of key partners, management of contracts and allocation of resources to local communities,” said Inzeo in an email.
Additionally, PHI will work to develop and distribute resources to communities affected by the pandemic.
“The initiative aims to allocate resources to support community solutions to address inequities experienced by BIPOC due to COVID-19. Additionally, the initiative will develop and disseminate resources, including public health education that is developed with input by BIPOC as well as information on local innovations communities can implement,” explained Inzeo.
People of color in Wisconsin have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Black Wisconsinites are about five times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 and about five times more likely to die from it as compared to white Wisconsinites. Hispanic/Latinx Wisconsinites are about eight times as likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 as compared to non-Hispanic or Latinx residents. According to DHS data, 1,654 cases have been reported among American Indians in Wisconsin as of Oct. 7.
“We have been grappling with significant health and economic inequities in our state for years, and COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities have only made the situation more dire,” said Lt. Gov. Barnes.
These disparities can be attributed to structural inequities such as a lack of access to health care, income inequality and residential segregation driven by structural racism, according to the Population Health Institute. These factors contribute to worsened underlying health issues and lower life expectancy among Black Americans and other communities of color, increasing the risk of complications from COVID-19.
People of color are prevalent in many frontline occupations that are more likely to experience exposure to COVID-19, such as home health aides, store clerks, day care providers, public transit workers, warehouse workers and delivery drivers.
“BIPOC have long experienced inequities in where they live, learn, work, worship and access resources. These inequities are systemic and include structural racism and have been exacerbated by COVID-19,” Inzeo said. “Inequities show up in increased risk of exposure, delays and/or lack of access to testing, structural barriers in being able to stay safely at home as well as stay safely home from work when sick and or exposed.”
Inzeo emphasized that communities need to work together to implement solutions to the disparate impacts of the pandemic.
“As communities we know of ways to implement programs, organizational changes, and policies to reduce risk, mitigate harm and prevent all of the ways BIPOC are differentially impacted by COVID-19. We need to work together as community members and leaders to implement these solutions,” Inzeo said.