New Hampshire leaders discuss racial disparity in COVID-19 cases

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Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire joined state health officials to discuss racial inequities related to the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday.

According to state data, non-white racial and ethnic minorities account for roughly 10 percent of New Hampshire’s population, but more than 25 percent of its COVID-19 cases. Roughly 15 percent of New Hampshire’s COVID-19 cases don’t specify the individual’s race.

“Granite-staters and Americans are trying to focus on how we can change these particular trends and how we can begin to come together and build a more just healthcare system, criminal justice system, housing system and economy so that we can all thrive,” Sen. Hassan said.

In May, Gov. Chris Sununu formed a COVID-19 equity response team, which has focused on a broader range of issues that contribute to the disproportionate breakdown of COVID-19 cases in marginalized communities.

Melina Hill Walker, program director for the Endowment for Health, said that understanding how the pandemic impacts these communities is tied to acknowledging longstanding gaps in education, housing and healthcare.

“We need to keep in mind that these inequities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic are not new, they did not just surface in the nation or New Hampshire, they have been present all along and require a cross-sector approach to be fully and adequately successful,” Walker said.

Bobbie Bagley, director of the Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services, gave some perspective on how local healthcare workers were able to help address these widespread issues.

“We wanted to make sure that we’re in the community providing testing where people can have access to that testing and also making sure that we have a diverse staff that would be able to help provide information in the majority of languages spoken at these testing clinics,” Bagley said.

Bagley also mentioned that a lot of those who tested positive from marginalized communities were essential workers who needed a paycheck and didn’t have the option to work from home, making for a difficult financial situation.

There was a recent effort by the New Hampshire Legislature to pass paid family and medical leave, but it was vetoed by Gov. Sununu last week.

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