Gov. Roy Cooper announced during a media briefing Thursday a new executive order to address the social, environmental, economic and health disparities in communities of color that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Executive Order 143 establishes the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force to focus on economic stability, health disparities and environmental justice in the state and directs state agencies and offices to provide targeted measures to help communities of color that have been affected by the pandemic.
“COVID-19 is shining a light on disparities that have long existed in our health care and economic institutions for communities of color,” said Cooper. “Today’s Executive Order will expand our state’s efforts to help North Carolinians recover from the pandemic and improve access to affordable healthcare and quality economic opportunities in our state.”
COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color for several reasons, including existing social, environmental and health inequities. Despite making up 22% of North Carolina’s population, as of June 1, African Americans account for 30 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases and 34% of COVID-19 deaths in cases where race is known. Similarly, Hispanics account for 39% of confirmed COVID-19 cases, in cases where race or ethnicity is known, despite only making up about 10% of the population in the state, officials said.
The order puts in motion several directives, including tasking the Department of Environmental Quality to create a common discourse on environmental justice and coordinate with state executive agencies on the integration of environmental justice considerations into current and future policies, programs, and procedures.
Environmental justice refers to the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
The order also does the following:
- Tasks the North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office to ensure the equitable distribution of pandemic relief funds.
- Directs the Historically Underutilized Business Office to provide small historically underutilized businesses with access to opportunities, tools, and resources that promote equitable economic recovery and procurement of State contracts.
- Directs the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to ensure all communities have access to COVID-19 testing and related health care.
- Tasks the Office of Public Engagement to increase awareness about COVID-19, COVID-19 relief services and resources, and provide education on eliminating disparities.
- Directs the Division of Emergency Management to continue coordinating efforts to protect the food supply chain and support feeding operations at food banks and school systems.
- Directs the North Carolina National Guard to provide planning and logistical support and personnel where feasible to support mass testing of food processing plant workers in impacted communities and migrant farm workers.
The task force is named after the late Andrea Harris, a cofounder of the the nonprofit North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development and serving on the Advisory Council for Historically Underutilized Businesses.
Department of Administration Secretary Machelle D. Sanders will lead the task force.
“Health inequities are the result of more than individual choice or random occurrence — they are the result of the historic and ongoing interplay of inequitable structures, policies, and norms that shape lives,” said Sanders. “I am deeply honored to carry Andrea Harris’ torch on this new task force, as we grapple with these complex and critical issues for North Carolina.”