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Readout of The Third Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force Meeting

On Friday, May 1, COVID-19 Health Equity Chair, Marcella Nunez-Smith convened the third COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to discuss the Biden-Harris Administration's approach to mitigate the health inequities caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future. This meeting specifically covered mental and behavioral health.

Dr. Nunez-Smith opened the meeting with remarks about the importance of advancing behavioral health equity. "COVID-19 inequities experienced by minoritized and marginalized communities also manifest in suffering from grief, stress, and economic worry. This is an issue that touches virtually every community and countless families. We need to change today's reality that behavioral wellness is elusive for far too many."

HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, provided updates on the critical steps the Department has taken to expand access to mental health and substance use disorder. "Addressing the COVID-19 mental and behavioral health impacts on vulnerable and disenfranchised populations are among the top priorities of the Biden-Harris administration."

During the meeting, Task Force members heard presentations and discussed how agencies and state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) officials can best allocate mental and behavioral health resources, in light of disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and mortality in certain communities and disparities in COVID-19 outcomes by race, ethnicity, and other factors.

Task Force Members discussed and voted favorably on short-term, as well as, long-term interim recommendations focused on:

  • How federal agencies and SLTT officials can best allocate mental and behavioral health resources to engage with underserved communities to improve healthcare access and quality care to appropriately address inequities;
  • Mandating comprehensive, standardized data related to mental health and substance use disorders to ensure robust analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on the behavioral health of all communities, especially marginalized, minoritized, and underserved communities, and providing incentives to improve surveillance through data collection, sharing and analytics for equitable outcomes;
  • Increasing access to quality behavioral health services through culturally responsive interventions and resources during the pandemic to address crises and related behavioral health needs; and increase funding to Medicaid and Medicare providers that serve marginalized populations including BIPOC communities, youth and healthcare workers;
  • Build a Presidential public awareness campaign to address the mental health and substance use disorder impacts from the pandemic, and engage public-private entities to address the behavioral health inequities across the life span, mainly through youth leadership;
  • Address the syndemic social drivers of behavioral health inequities related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including housing, transportation, job, food and nutrition security;
  • Protect workers through the President's American Jobs plan to create jobs with sustainable wages and benefits.

To watch the full recording of the third COVID-19 Health Task Force Meeting, please use the following links:

- Part 1:

- Part 2:

- Part 3:

The next COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force meeting is tentatively scheduled for Friday, May 28. Stay up-to-date by subscribing to e-mail updates.

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other news materials are available at
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