Excerpted From: Darryl E. Crompton, President Biden's Executive Order 13995 on Covid-19 and Health Equity: Seeking Justice in a Public Health Crisis, 16 Journal of Health & Life Sciences Law 8 (2022) (20 Footnotes) (Full Document)

DarrylECromptonIn January 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order 13995, Ensuring an Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery, to better serve communities of color. As part of the President's “National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness,” the Executive Order created a Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on minority populations and to reduce racial and ethnic disparities of COVID-19 prevention, testing, and treatment. That Task Force issued and delivered the Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Final Report and Recommendations to the White House on November 10, 2021. A substantial majority of those recommendations are directed at federal action; however, many of the COVID-19 policy recommendations can, and should be, adapted for implementation by local governments.

This article explores several health policy issues related to the President's COVID-19 Executive Order, including health equity and justice, structural racism, health disparities, vaccine access, and vaccine acceptance in communities of color. This article also proposes several health equity policy considerations to local governments intended to supplement the Task Force recommendations. Health care attorneys can play a key role in achieving health equity by engaging with local officials and communities of color to adopt these local government health equity policy considerations.

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Racism has been recognized as a public health issue. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted and exacerbated preexisting inequities facing communities of color and other underserved populations. The history of racism in state and local government policies specifically impacting health care, public health, education, housing, employment, and justice has denied many communities of color the opportunity to be healthy and thrive. It is imperative that federal government agencies collaborate and engage with local governments and communities of color to enact health and economic policies and reforms to achieve health equity to most effectively use the opportunity presented by the Executive Order. It is also essential to rebuild trust in public health institutions and a belief in collective action in service of public health.

Although the Executive Order has resulted in a Task Force final report with significant and far-reaching recommendations, it is important to remember that it is merely the first step in achieving health equity policy and program changes at the local government level. It is impossible to predict how or to what extent the Task Force final report will be implemented at the local, state, federal, Tribal, and territorial levels. Federal and local government funding support for programs and initiatives could be problematic. To address many of the current challenges of COVID-19 inequities, and to be better prepared for inevitable outbreaks adversely affecting communities of color-- including from new coronavirus variants--President Biden's Executive Order 13995 is a step in the right direction. But, the path to ending health disparities and achieving COVID-19 health equity is a long one.

DARRYL CROMPTON, JD, MPH has worked as an attorney, non-profit executive, and health equity advocate.