July 27, 2020 – The Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the Health Equity Working Group announced today a pilot program with the City of Hampton. The program is a state-local partnership, aimed to increase equitable access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and public health information in underserved and historically disadvantaged communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Governor Ralph Northam announced the formation of the Health Equity Pilot Program on May 11, 2020 with the first partnership being with the City of Richmond. The Health Equity Leadership Task Force used a data-driven approach to identify communities across the commonwealth most in need and at risk of contracting COVID-19.
"We are excited to partner with the City of Hampton in this important endeavor,’’ said Chief Diversity Officer to Governor Northam, Dr. Janice Underwood. "COVID-19 was not something we expected; however, the Commonwealth has aggressively addressed structural inequities that were not new, but were definitely magnified due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities of color have disproportionately carried the burden of COVID-19, but collaboration with localities like the City of Hampton highlight Virginia’s commitment to local-state partnerships that promote an equitable response and recovery from this deadly disease."
“All people should have equal ability to protect themselves and help stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck. “Working with the state Health Equity Pilot Program has enabled the City of Hampton to distribute free masks and hand sanitizers to 10,000 vulnerable residents. This work has engaged partners, including neighborhood and faith volunteers and Sentara Healthcare, and also provided COVID-19 testing for some of our most vulnerable residents.”
Communities were identified using indicators such as chronic diseases, household income, age, disability status and other important health factors. More than 40 localities have been identified for participation in the Health Equity Pilot Program and will receive up to 20,000 cloth masks, bottles of hand sanitizer, and appropriate translated public health materials. To date, the commonwealth has partnered with 29 localities. City officials in 9 localities have completed a health equity and public safety training and begun distributing much needed resources within their communities, while the others are in the planning phase of the pilot program and set to begin distribution in the upcoming weeks. Over 340,000 cloth masks and 300,000 bottles of hand sanitizer have been delivered to localities across the state.
Hampton has held several community engagement events, including this morning at Empowered Believers Christian Learning Center. Earlier events included drive-through pick-up events, and also on-sight distribution locations in collaboration with community partners. By today, Hampton will ice distributed 20,000 masks and bottles of hand sanitizer through this program.
The Health Equity Leadership Taskforce provides leadership to the Unified Command Health Equity Work Group, which was formed at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in Virginia. This working group is the first ever in Virginia’s history to ensure a health equity lens is applied during an emergency response. Dr. Janice Underwood, the Commonwealth’s first Chief Diversity Officer, leads the Unified Command Health Equity Work Group.
“COVID-19 has demonstrated the continued disproportionate impact of disasters due to systemic inequities,” said VDEM State Coordinator Curtis Brown. “I am proud that VDEM can collaboratively implement the Health Equity Pilot Project to support equitable mitigation efforts in the City of Hampton.”
Applying an equity lens to the COVID-19 mitigation and response efforts is important as many Virginia residents do not have access to life-saving personal protective equipment, are not able to social and physical distance, and take in important information differently. The Health Equity Pilot Project is a collaborative effort with local governments and provides local governments with timely health equity and public safety training and residents with much needed personal protective equipment.