“The COVID epidemic has been a great amplifier of inequality," Lt. Gov. John Fetterman said.By Meghan Schiller

YORK, Pa. (KDKA) – A task force created by Gov. Tom Wolf to investigate health disparities of the pandemic released its report Thursday.

In April, 20 to 30 percent of race data was unreported in coronavirus test results. Now Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine says that number is over over 60 percent: “But that’s not good enough. We have to do even better.”

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The governor’s office created the COVID-19 Response Task Force for Health Disparity back in April to find out how the pandemic affects the state’s minority and vulnerable populations.

“The COVID epidemic has been a great amplifier of inequality,” Lt. Gov. John Fetterman said.

Inequality that sparked a new task force with one goal: “To ensure that every Pennsylvanian regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic background has an equal opportunity to survive and to thrive,” said Gov. Tom Wolf.

The task force learned that coronavirus hit harder in the poorer, underserved and non-English speaking communities across the state.

“Overwhelmingly our frontline, essential employees are coming from these communities of color,” says Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. “They work at the grocery stores, they work at the post office, they work on the frontline.”

And a lack of money, a reliable car or solid health insurance only makes things harder when you’re sick.

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The report focuses on six policy topics related to health disparity, which ranked in order of urgency are criminal justice, food insecurity, health disparity, education and economic opportunities.

The task force also started by recommending solutions like sealing evictions for people currently on unemployment and creating a driver’s license amnesty program so people aren’t limited by the ability to travel to healthcare or forced onto mass transit.

Now the work of the task force will help inform a recently-established internal steering committee focused on dismantling racism.

“The steering committee is made up of key cabinet members working together with our policy leaders to build a short- and long-term policy agenda to dismantle the systemic racism and resulting inequities that exist around us, inequities that have been exacerbated by this pandemic,” Gov. Wolf said in a press release.

“My goal is to be intentional in all aspects of commonwealth work to maintain a commitment to a diverse, culturally responsive workforce.”

Below are the top takeaways from each of the six issues explored in this report:

“1. Housing: Sealing evictions for Pennsylvanians who applied for unemployment during COVID-19 will prevent tenants from being penalized and jeopardizing their future housing stability through no fault of their own.

“2. Criminal Justice: Implementing a Driver’s License Amnesty Program will correct an oversight that left many Black and Brown Pennsylvanians with decreased mobility. While the legislature acted to end license suspensions for non-driving-related offenses, the move was not retroactive. This limits the ability to travel to healthcare and forces more people onto mass transit that could spread the virus.

“3. Food Insecurity: Increasing the income threshold for food assistance will ensure that more people are eligible.

“4. Health Disparity: It is crucial to continue the Alternative Payment Arrangement that helped to finance the gap when individuals were unable to access services until service- access fluctuations subside.

“5. Education: Standardizing remote learning and access to technology will help to ensure all students start with equal learning opportunities.

“6. Economic Opportunities: Helping Black-and-Brown-owned businesses with direct, expedited assistance through special programs will reduce the number of these businesses that are forced to close permanently because of the virus.”

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You can read the full report online.

Meghan Schiller