‘It’s a big problem’: Lt. Gov. Fairfax calls for task force to examine pandemic’s racial disparities

FILE — In a Monday, Jan. 20, 2020 file photo, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax speaks during the ninth annual wreath laying and ceremony at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Va. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax wants to examine COVID-19 racial disparities (WTOP's John Domen)

As Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax works to ensure the health of communities across the commonwealth during the coronavirus pandemic, he said he would also like to investigate why the crisis is having a disproportionate impact on minority groups and what can be done about it.

“When you have a quarter of the population having two-thirds of the confirmed cases, that’s a problem,” Fairfax told WTOP. “It’s a big problem.”

This week, Fairfax sent a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam, asking for the creation of a task force that would examine the impact COVID-19 has had on marginalized communities.

The task force wouldn’t just examine why that’s been the case either. It would also come up with solutions that would ultimately, Fairfax said, help flatten the curve around Virginia.

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“We’re seeing centuries of health care disparities, discrimination, coming to the fore,” Fairfax said. “We’re seeing every crack and crevice of racial disparity in our country’s history being exposed now.”

Minority groups are often more likely to struggle with underlying conditions and lack access to quality health care, but Fairfax said the problem also goes deeper than that.

“We know that black and brown people are disproportionately deemed essential, front-line workers, including many in my own family,” Fairfax said. “So, they are likely to come into contact with exposure to COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate.”

If approved by the governor, the task force would work to direct resources and solutions, as well as stepped-up testing that would benefit anyone in a virus hot spot.

“I believe there’s so much the commonwealth of Virginia and our government can do in this moment,” Fairfax said. “For instance, in our letter, we talked about providing free personal protective equipment — PPE — to barbershops, salons and grocers.”

With much of Virginia entering the first phase of its gradual reopening plan on Friday, Fairfax said it was important to get the necessary equipment to small businesses, or risk increasing the likelihood that customers and employees catch and spread the novel coronavirus.

In a news conference Wednesday, Northam addressed the racial disparities, admitting, “We still have inequities in today’s society. … One of those inequities is access to medical care.”

Northam has not yet formally addressed Fairfax’s request.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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