Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith to Chair Equity Task Force: “It Is Our Societal Obligation to Ensure Equitable Access”

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In a series of nominations for health leaders in his administration, President-Elect Joe Biden appointed Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith as chair of the COVID-19 Equity Task Force, in addition to serving as co-chair of his COVID-19 Advisory Board. Nunez-Smith gave the following speech in accepting her appointment:

“I’m proud to go to work with leaders who are deeply committed to science and to centering equity in our response to this pandemic. And not as a secondary concern, not as a box to check, but as a shared value woven into all of the work that we do and prioritized by every member of the Biden-Harris team,” Nunez-Smith said.

She already serves as founding director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale University, where she received her masters degree in health science and is currently a professor. She also created the Eastern Caribbean Health Outcomes Research Network to alleviate health care discrepancies in underserved regions.

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In her remarks on Tuesday, Dec. 8, Nunez-Smith discussed the gravity of racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes:

“I grew up on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin islands, a place where people too often died too young from preventable conditions. My own father had his first stroke in his 40s and was left paralyzed. I learned there was a term for what we were: An underserved community, marginalized by place and by race.

“In my medical training, I saw countless patients whose conditions were shaped by factors having nothing to do with science and everything to do with broader social inequity. And now the COVID-19 crisis has laid those inequities bare. It is not a coincidence and it is not a matter of genetics that more than 70 percent of African-Americans and more than 60 percent of Latinx Americans personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died from COVID-19. 

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“The same disparities ingrained in our economy, our housing system, our food system, our justice system, and so many other areas of our society have conspired in this moment to create a grief gap that we cannot ignore.

“It is our societal obligation to ensure equitable access to testing, treatments, and vaccines, equitable support for those who are hurting, and equitable pathways to opportunity as we emerge from this crisis and rebuild, including for those most marginalized communities: The undocumented, the incarcerated, the homeless.”

Biden expressed his faith in Nunez-Smith to tackle inequities exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. “She’ll ensure that fairness and equity are at the center of every part of our response,” Biden said.

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Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a sophomore at Tufts University studying sociology and community health. She is a Ms. contributing writer, and was formerly an editorial fellow, research fellow and assistant editor of social media. You can find her on Twitter at @sophie_dk_.