Kim Hines shops at Citi Trends in Goldsboro on May 15, 2020. The clothing store opened last back to regular hours on May 8th. [Melissa Sue Gerrits/The Carolina Public Press]

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People in the state’s African American and Latino communities are testing positive for COVID-19 more frequently than whites. 

It’s not because they are biologically more likely to be affected by the new coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday. He announced a new task force to study and make recommendations to address generational inequities in health care, housing, economic opportunity and more.

Of the state’s nearly 10.4 million people, 22% are African American, but 30% of positive COVID-19 cases and 34% of all deaths come from this group.

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Latino and Hispanic people make up about 10% of the state’s population but comprise 39% of known COVID-19 infections.

“These stats are alarming, and they are not acceptable,” Cooper said Thursday. “There is nothing inherent to black or brown people that makes them more susceptible to COVID-19 illnesses.”

Historic inequities in health care, housing, education and economic opportunity have compounded over generations to lead to this outcome.

“This virus is exploiting these inequalities, and it’s up to us to do something about it,” Cooper said.

The new executive order establishes the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental and Health Task Force. The group is composed of several members of Cooper’s cabinet as well as people representing a variety of historically disadvantaged groups.

Harris, a Durham business leader, died May 20. She was the co-founder of The Institute in Durham, which championed minority-owned businesses.

Cooper said he knew that minority-owned businesses have largely been excluded from government relief funds during the pandemic.

Leading the task force is Machelle Sanders, the secretary of administration in Cooper’s cabinet. The group has a broad mandate that culminates in a report at the end of the year on how to better address inequality statewide, including a specific focus on the COVID-19 pandemic response.

“We are not all faced with the same challenges and must look to provide alternative solutions to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 and other economic and health issues on vulnerable populations,” Sanders said.

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She said the task force will work with experts to create economic stability and achieve environmental justice for communities of color, including broader access to health care

The governor’s executive order says the group must provide a report with recommendations in December, and every six months thereafter.

Last month, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said it was aware of more than 2,000 workers at meatpacking plants who tested positive for COVID-19. The industry relies heavily on immigrant labor from Latin American countries.

Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.

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