San Jose leader unveils task force to tackle COVID-19 racial disparities
Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Katie Lauer.

San Jose City Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco alongside regional leaders at a virtual meeting Thursday announced the creation of a new task force aimed at tackling the disproportionate number of growing coronavirus cases among the region’s minorities.

Carrasco was joined by Assemblymember Kansen Chu of Milpitas, Stephanie Kleinheinz, a nurse practitioner and CEO of School Health Clinics of Santa Clara County and Reymundo Espinoza, CEO of the Gardner Family Health Network, among other community leaders to address the health needs, testing availability and potential strategies to combat the rise of cases among the region’s most vulnerable and underserved populations.

The Health and Racial Equity task force will include elected officials such as Councilmember Raul Peralez and Chu, as well as Santa Clara County health partners such as Community Health Partnership CEO Dolores Alvarado and the Health Trust CEO Michele Lew, among other regional leaders. It will focus on drafting policy recommendations that target the ongoing racial disparities exacerbated by the pandemic. Carrasco will chair the task force.

“It is my hope that this task force will be the beginning of the change needed to not only end the pandemic in our area, but to be the catalyst for policy change that can save the lives of thousands of minority families countywide,” Kleinheinz said.

The task force will highlight how the virus has affected communities of color and those experiencing poverty, immigrants and refugees, older adults, people with disabilities, formerly incarcerated and unsheltered residents by using data to identify trends and performing outreach in neighborhoods with the most cases.

Santa Clara County leaders Tuesday approved a similar effort to reach minority communities to provide masks, testing information and public education.

On the San Jose task force, officials plan to distribute information on testing, isolation and safe quarantine methods and performing “culturally appropriate” contact tracing in multiple messages. The task force will also focus on creating new test sites, distributing personal protective equipment, health and safety supplies and providing meals for high-risk groups.

County public health data shows the Latino community — predominantly in San Jose — is overrepresented in COVID-19 cases and deaths, while black people share a higher number of the county’s dead than their overall population, as San José Spotlight has reported.

While only 26 percent of the county’s population is Latino, Latinos represent 40 percent of all cases, county health officials said Thursday. To compare, 32 percent of the county’s residents are white, but whites only make up 17 percent of all cases. The local figures reflect national trends as black, Latinx and Native American communities have disproportionately been hit the hardest by the pandemic.

“I want to emphasize one thing — the data simply has confirmed what we all intuitively knew,” Carrasco, who represents the city’s East Side, said. “The pandemic didn’t produce these disparities, it just simply has highlighted the issues that we’ve been working on and that have been woefully unattended.”

One third of the first reported 100 deaths in Santa Clara County lived in just four zip codes — all situated in the East Side — which included 95116, 95127, 95148 and 95122, she said, but zip codes in some of the city’s more affluent and white neighborhoods including Almaden Valley, Willow Glen and Santa Teresa didn’t report nearly as many deaths or cases.

“This is a heart-wrenching statistic as we look at how COVID-19 is impacting people of color, people of lower incomes and people who live in a city divided by Highway 101,” Carrasco added.

Chu said the task force will help prepare the region for a potential resurgence of new cases in the fall, as the county’s poor neighborhoods continue to face the same issues that make them susceptible to getting sick — food insecurity, low-wage jobs and living in crowded households.

“This is the time that we start addressing those issues so when the second wave of COVID-19 hits, we are prepared,” he said. “We should do better.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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