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Mid-South receiving millions to address COVID-19 health disparities

Updated: Jun. 6, 2021 at 10:43 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The federal government is sending tens of millions of dollars to the Mid-South to address COVID-19 health disparities.

It’s been one of the toughest challenges during the pandemic.

Experts say while COVID-19 didn’t cause the country’s health disparities, it revealed them.

For instance, the CDC says black Americans made up over 18 percent of COVID-19 deaths during the height of the pandemic from spring to summer last year, despite accounting for just 12 percent of the population.

It’s similar for Hispanics, who made up 24 percent of deaths, despite making up 18 percent of the population.

But the disparities don’t end there.

Where you live also matters.

“We must also recognize many groups have been hard hit by the pandemic. Equity metrics are not limited to race and ethnicity. We must be intentional about the place, reaching rural frontier communities,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who chairs the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.

The CDC says in September the number of people with COVID-19 in rural areas surpassed the number of people with the virus in urban areas.

The agency says rural communities often have a higher proportion of residents who lack health insurance, live with comorbidities, are over age 65, and have limited access to doctors.

To reduce racial, ethnic, and rural health disparities, the CDC is distributing more than $2.25 billion dollars in grants across the nation.

Tennessee is receiving just over $38 million.

“We know COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color and vulnerable populations in Tennessee,” said Kimberly Lamar, PhD, assistant commissioner, Division of Health Disparities Elimination. “We are appreciative of this award and believe it will be a great investment for Tennesseans as we continue our work to address health inequities. The funding will be used to implement a coordinated and holistic approach that builds on culturally, linguistically, and locally tailored strategies and best practices to reduce COVID-19 risk across the state of Tennessee.”

Arkansas has been awarded over $40 million, while Mississippi will receive $48 million.

Large county health departments were also eligible.

According to the CDC, the Shelby County Health Department was awarded $6.5 million.

The money was made available through the $2.3 trillion COVID-19 relief legislative package that former President Donald Trump signed into law in December.

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