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Race and the pandemic: A Biden Covid-19 official discusses her goals.


President Biden wants racial equity to be at the essence of a fair national coronavirus response. And Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale epidemiologist who grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is in charge of the effort.

Dr. Nunez-Smith, the chairwoman of Mr. Biden’s Covid-19 equity task force, spoke to The New York Times about the challenges ahead in her role.

She is charged with advising the president on how to allocate resources and reach out to underserved populations to fight a pandemic that has taken a devastating toll on people of color. Black and Latino people have been nearly twice as likely as white people to die from Covid-19.

“Make no mistake about it — beating this pandemic is hard work,” Dr. Nunez-Smith told reporters on Wednesday, after the White House named the members of the task force. “And beating this pandemic while making sure that everyone in every community has a fair chance to stay safe or to regain their health, well, that’s the hard work and the right work.”

Q. You’ve been in office just a few weeks. What have you learned?

A. What’s great about this is being public facing. I hear from everyday Americans every day. People write all the time with their own experiences.

Obviously you cannot cure racial disparities in health care overnight, so what are you aiming for, at least in the near term? And then in the long term?

We’re charged with rapid response recommendations and then paving the way for equity in the recovery. We talk a lot about vaccines, but we can’t forget about everything else. We think about frontline essential workers and others who still have challenges in terms of having inadequate protection in the workplace. Access to testing is also uneven.

It’s exciting to see new technologies emerge, but we also have to make sure that everybody can benefit from all of the scientific discoveries.

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