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DHHS Commissioner Grilled Over Response To Racial Disparity In COVID-19 Cases

One of two black members of the Maine Legislature sharply criticized the state’s response to COVID-19 in black and African American Mainers, who have contracted the disease at ten times the rate of whites. Democratic state Rep. Rachael Talbot Ross of Portland says the Department of Health and Human Services needs to do more.

Ross told DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew at a meeting of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee that the state has not done enough to address the racial disparity. She said the agency talks about possible solutions, but isn’t doing enough to target prevention efforts at the black community.

“It has been extraordinarily difficult to get answers out of your department regarding the disparity and what you are specifically doing around testing, tracing, prevention and education,” Ross said. “How are you actually not just talking about this work but actually doing the work so that we do not see these disparities exacerbated week after week after week?”

Lambrew said her agency is working to respond to the black community’s concerns. She said federal money under the CARES Act is available to pay for some targeted outreach efforts, and programs aimed at minorities are being developed.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.