Mass. Public Health Launches an Emergency Task Force on Coronavirus & Equity

March 23, 2020

More than 400 people joined in an online press conference on March 20 conducted by Massachusetts Public Health Association (MPHA) announcing an Emergency Task Force on Coronavirus & Equity. Moderated by the MPHA’s Executive Director Carlene Pavlos, the event consisted of concise and moving presentations by a number of experts. First up were the Task Force’s co-chairs Sandro Galea, MD, Dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, and Cheryl Bartlett, RN, CEO of the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center and former Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The goal of the press conference was to review what Galea said, “needs to be done and can be done” to promote equity during the COVID-19 crisis. “Not everyone will be affected equally,” he said, pointing out that in Boston there is a 10-year life expectancy difference among people who live just two miles apart. Bartlett added that the goal of the Task Force is to make sure that “no one will be left behind or forced to choose between a meal on their table and their health.”

Other speakers included Karen Chen, Executive Director of the Chinese Progressive Association, who made the point that immigrants are afraid to seek treatment. “Many of the issues we are discussing today are the same issues we have been confronting for a long time,” she explained.

Joyce Tavon, Director of Programs & Planning for the Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance, drew attention to the plight of the 5,400 adults crowded into shelters every night with no possibility of social distancing. “This is a public health problem; not a homelessness problem,” she said. 

Representing the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Raise Up Massachusetts, Pablo Ruiz called for swift passage of a bill that would provide pay for employee sick time. Finally, Lisa Owens, Executive Director of City Life Vida Urbana, made a powerful case for an immediate moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.

The Task Force is recommending dramatic and immediate action to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak, including:

Ensure Immigrants Have Safe Access to Testing & Treatment
Ensure Everyone Has Access to Self-Quarantine
Pass Emergency Paid Sick Time
Enact a Moratorium on Evictions, Foreclosures & Termination of Public Benefits

Go to for more on the Task Force.