POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Governor announces multicultural addition to state COVID-19 task force

Apr 24, 2020, 2:37 PM
multicultural task force...
Byron Russell, co-chair of the Utah Multicultural Commission and new subcommittee speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A new subcommittee is being added to Utah’s community coronavirus task force, aimed at supporting minority communities.

On Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert announced the creation of the Multicultural Task Force: a subcommittee that will address inaccessibility minority communities have been facing since the start of the pandemic.

Gov. Herbert indicated language and cultural barriers necessitated the addition of this new subcommittee.

“We have found by data, that we have maybe more significant challenges with our minority groups,” Herbert said. “We’re concerned in making sure they understand and get the information necessary for them to survive.

The data Herbert referred to was a  survey conducted by the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs that found minority populations encounter 10 unique challenges during the pandemic: including health care access, technology accessibility, housing and food insecurity, language barriers and the spread of misinformation.

The report also discovered Utah minorities experience a higher rate of infection. Research conducted by the Utah Department of Health stated Hispanic and Latinx communities have a 28% infection rate.

Gov. Herbert also mentioned Native American and Pacific Islander groups have been hit hard by the virus.

Nubia Peña, the Director of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, will lead the new subcommittee. Peña and her office conducted the study to “establish a baseline of service and identify gaps” in pandemic assistance for marginalized groups.

“Our findings show that many people in those communities are worried about their basic needs, including food, housing, and employment,” Peña said. “If they do get sick, they have limited to health care options, especially if they do not speak English, do not have benefits, or live in rural areas or tribal lands.”

Peña said misinformation is a “big concern,” primarily for undocumented immigrants. Internet access normally available for low-income and minority groups, such as public libraries are temporarily closed due to COVID-19.

Additionally, Peña noted a lack of resources available to victims of abuse during the pandemic.

Byron Russell, co-chair for the Utah Multicultural Commission and the new subcommittee, pointed out the virus doesn’t discriminate — but assistance is needed to keep underrepresented and low-income communities safe.

“While the COVID-19 virus can infect anyone regardless of nationality, income or creed, data is showing a greater impact on minority or low-income communities,” Russell said. “This subcommittee has been a symbol to address those disparities with an emphasis on recommendations from [the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs] survey.”

Russell continued by stating the subcommittee will “help provide basic needs to communities where the crisis has compounded existing challenges, disseminate information to historically underrepresented communities statewide, and create a language literacy access plan.”

According to Gov. Herbert, the task force will be made up of government officials, business leaders, faith-based organizations and other community advocates.

Herbert and Russell said the formation of the Multicultural Task Force has been in the works for a while. The governor said the state will work with leaders of minority communities to assure that information they need about testing and prevention reaches everybody in Utah.

Nubia Peña is the chair of the subcommittee, Byron Russell and Zee Min Xiao are co-chairs of the task force. Additional members of the subcommittee will be announced soon.

For more information surrounding pandemic assistance to marginalized communities, visit the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs resource page.

For language access to COVID-19 information, visit the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs language resource page. 

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Governor announces multicultural addition to state COVID-19 task force