Vermont task force to look at racial disparities in coronavirus response

A new Vermont task force is going to be looking for ways to promote racial, ethic and cultural equity in the state, including the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Phil Scott signed the executive order creating the task force on Monday. The order itself was released Tuesday by the governor’s office.

“Let’s be honest, a task force is not the cure-all for what ails us,” Scott said. “It’s going to take some soul-searching and change, individually, to make a difference.”

U.S. Census figures show that 1.4% of the state’s population is black or African American. The Health Department’s COVID-19 statistics show that almost 3.7% of COVID-19 cases in Vermont are in African Americans.

Nationally, COVID-19 has been shown to disproportionately affect African Americans.

Health conditions that exist at higher rates in the black community — obesity, diabetes and asthma — make African Americans more susceptible to the virus. They also are more likely to be uninsured, and often report that medical professionals take their ailments less seriously when they seek treatment.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that scientists haven’t determined if there are any Vermont-specific reasons for COVID-19 affecting African Americans.

“We will be working hand-in-hand with the task force to try to get at some of those issues,” Levine said.

In addition to looking at COVID-19, the task force will also review state and federal laws on hate speech and freedom of speech and look for ways to encourage people from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups to run for office and serve in public offices.

The next step is for the governor is to appoint up to eight members of the task force, which is due to make its recommendations about COVID-19 by mid-August.

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NUMBERS

The Health Department reported Tuesday three new positive cases of the virus, bringing the total to just under 990. The number of deaths remained steady at 55.

The health department also reported no patients were hospitalized in the state with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Ten individuals are hospitalized under investigation for COVID-19.

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REOPENING

Vermont is continuing to reopen from the COVID-19 closures.

On Monday, the Department of Motor Vehicles announced people can now take learner’s permit tests online. Motor vehicle officials are now rescheduling drivers tests that were canceled due to the pandemic. Beginning Wednesday, people will be able to begin making new appointments to take tests.

Scott said that later in the week the state expects to release details about the resumption of indoor dining at the state’s restaurants.

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