Kenyatta ensures Black communities hard hit by pandemic are at the forefront of COVID-19 mitigation efforts

HARRISBURGH, July 9 –  State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Phila., said his efforts to ensure the Black community is represented in Pennsylvania’s efforts to continue to understand COVID-19 came to fruition on Tuesday as the House passed legislation to begin the epidemiological study of the deadly virus.

Adopted as an amendment to a bill (H.B. 2450) that would establish an independent COVID-19 State Epidemiology Advisory Council tasked with making policy recommendations under the direction of epidemiologists appointed by deans of select accredited state universities, Kenyatta’s legislation would require that the council’s policy recommendations and final report also be focused on the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on specific racial and ethnic groups, particularly Black and brown communities. 

“This is a win and significant step toward effectively mitigating the pandemic here in Pennsylvania, especially in our Black and brown communities,” Kenyatta said. “We know that race and ethnicity are playing a key role in the spread of this deadly disease and that Black and brown communities are disproportionately affected.

“In seeking solutions, it is crucial for this council of epidemiologist to be deliberate in the approach to understanding how this virus spreads, with a keen focus on critical demographics. I am proud my legislation received overwhelming bipartisan support, an acknowledgement that we cannot tackle this health crisis if we omit race and ethnicity from the conversation. The impacts of COVID aren’t race neutral and our approach can’t be race neutral,” he said.

As the bill went through review and consideration, it was Kenyatta who aggressively questioned the bill’s author on why the state council was not highlighting the impacts on Black and brown Pennsylvanians as well as utilizing the talent of Pennsylvania’s historical black colleges and universities on the proposed council. His observation led the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. John Lawrence, R-Chester/Lancaster, to amend the bill to require an appointee from Lincoln University to the council.

“To fully grasp the scope of how the spread of COVID-19 is intertwined with race and ethnicity, we must enlist the expertise of Black epidemiologists,” Kenyatta said. “They lend a nuanced eye toward discovery, explanation and response. As Black communities remain among the hardest hit by this crisis, we must have members of those communities at the table to develop solutions, which is why I am grateful that Representative Lawrence heeded my advice to add Lincoln University to the council.”

The bill was sent to the Senate for consideration.