Request for emergency task force on COVID-19 racial disparities earns bipartisan support


State Rep. Shawn Thierry speaks at the end of the 2019 session of the Texas Legislature. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — One state lawmaker is calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to appoint an emergency task force to look into COVID-19 racial disparities. The request from Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) is getting bipartisan support.

African Americans have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19, with higher rates of hospitalizations and of deaths from the disease. That disparity is happening around the country and here in Texas.

“The African American population in Houston is approximately 23%, yet 66% of the COVID-19 deaths are Black residents,” Thierry wrote in a letter to the Governor. She wrote that creating a task force could help save lives in the community.

“The task force’s goal would be to issue recommendations to medical facilities or municipalities on effective testing plans to meet the needs of this high-risk population,” Thierry explained during a call with reporters on Tuesday. She announced on that call that she had drafted the letter that day.

Since then Thierry reached out to other lawmakers both through individual calls and e-mails, as well as conference calls and online meetings. By the time she sent the letter to Gov. Abbott, 49 House lawmakers signed on in support.

Most who signed on are Democrats, but the list includes several Republicans, including Dan Huberty (R-Humble) and Jeff Leach (R-Plano). The list also includes Freedom Caucus members like Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), and Valoree Swanson (R-Spring).

“I talked to my colleagues and what I said is this is about people not politics,” Thierry said. “I can tell you, every member, Democrat, Republican, that I spoke with identified with that.”

“The implementation of the Task Force is a well-reasoned, timely action,” Thierry wrote in the letter. “It should be deemed as a proactive, versus reactive, bipartisan approach to reducing the COVID-19 mortality and morbidity rate for African Americans, which essentially, and simultaneously, protects the health and well-being of all Texans.”

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