INDIANAPOLIS – COVID-19 continues to take a toll in lives and jobs as Indiana slowly reopens to business and prepares for the June 2 primary.

Health Disparities Task Force

The state saw 614 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, bringing the total to 26,655. There were an additional 42 deaths with 1,550 statewide.

Of these numbers, African Americans account for nearly 15% of all positive cases, and nearly 16% of all deaths, although they only make up 9.8% of Indiana’s population.

That is why the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus petitioned Gov. Eric Holcomb to create the COVID-19 Health Disparities Task Force that will focus on some of the issues affecting the health of African Americans, Latinos and other minorities.

Dr. Kristina Box, the state’s health commissioner said the state is working to ensure minority populations have access to COVID-19 testing and health care and keep these populations represented in the state’s studies and reports.

“But it’s particularly evident when you look at something like a pandemic, with COVID-19, and the importance of how we make sure we not only do everything from our testing being targeted, to those more disparate populations and making sure that that testing is accessible, easily for those individuals,” Box said. “But connecting them to health care and making sure that were messaging that and communicating that in a way that that really resounds with these specific populations.”

Box said the state over-sampled minority populations during the study in partnership with the IU Fairbanks School of Public Heath to ensure an accurate representation of these minority groups.

“This task force is a step in the right direction to aid our state’s black and brown communities,” Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said in a news release announcing that she would be a member of the task force.

“We know that Indiana has consistently seen poorer health outcomes for African Americans compared to white residents,” she also said. “We also clearly see that COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect these same communities. A swift response is needed before this pandemic turns even deadlier for poor and minority Hoosiers.”

Some of the other members include Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, who also serves as chair of the IBLC; Dr. Janet Seabrook, CEO of Community HealthNet, Inc.; Lisa L. Welch, director of Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission; and Dr. Kristen Dauss, chief medical officer of the state Department of Correction.

The task force’s first meeting is set for 11 a.m. Monday with the goal of delivering recommendations by the end of June.

Unemployment

Indiana is still seeing record high numbers of Hoosiers applying for unemployment benefits, but the overall rate is going down.

Fred Payne, commissioner of the Department of Workforce Development, said that the state received 30,691 claims the week ending May 9. In May alone, the state has paid out more than 900,000 unemployment claims.

The peak of claims came the week ending March 28 with a little more than 139,000 claims. In total, the state has paid out over $1.4 billion in unemployment claims.

To help Hoosiers find work and to help Indiana businesses reopen, the state will hold virtual job fairs to fill open positions in the state.

“As an agency we continue to have the responsibility of connecting people to resources, connecting people to job training resources, connecting people to jobs and connecting employers to skilled workers,” Payne said.

A virtual job fair for the Terre Haute area will be held on May 20 and 27. A statewide job fair looking to fill more than 700 positions will be held May 21.

Hoosiers looking for work opportunities can visit indianacareerready.com.

Payne said the department plans to work on its rapid recovery plan to ensure the state still has skilled workers even after the pandemic ends. He said the plan will include resources to pay tuition and fees to enroll in college and job certification programs.

Election:

As June 2 rapidly approaches, Secretary of State Connie Lawson is asking Hoosiers to either vote by mail or take precautions if they choose to vote in person at the polls.

Although requirements that voters need a reason to to get an absentee ballot have been lifted so all Hoosiers can choose that option, the polls will still be open for early voting and on election day.

Lawson said the state has secured personal protective equipment to ensure the safety of poll works and volunteers. This includes hand sanitizer, masks, gloves and liquid cleaner. However, Lawson added that Hoosiers will still need to supply their own PPE if they need it to vote in person.

More than 330,000 Hoosiers have already casted their vote by mail, compared to just over 53,000 in the 2016 election, she said.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is May 21. Requests can be submitted by mail, email, or submitted online at indianavoters.in.gov. Lawson said ballots need to be received by county clerks by noon on election day to be counted.

Beginning May 26, counties will open early voting and will only be open for seven days to help eliminate large crowds on election day.

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