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Women And People Of Color Are Underrepresented On A State Coronavirus Board

Photo of the Utah state capitol dome
Austen Diamond
Ten members sit on Utah's Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission. Only one of them is a woman, and none of them are people of color.

During April’s virtual special session, the Utah Legislature created the Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission to make policy recommendations to the governor on how the state should respond to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Ten members sit on Utah’s Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission. 

The governor appointed four members, the senate president and house speaker chose two each and the Utah Association of Counties and Utah Department of Health both selected one representative. But only one of them is a woman — Utah Association of Counties CEO Brandy Grace — and none of them are people of color. 

Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission members:

  • Jefferson Burton, Department of Health, co-chair
  • Sen. Dan Hemmert, co-chair
  • President Stuart Adams
  • Rep. Mike Schultz
  • Steve Starks, Larry H. Miller Corporation
  • Dr. Michael Good, University of Utah Health (nonprofit hospital)
  • Brian Dunn, Steward Healthcare (for-profit hospital)
  • Derek Miller, Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce
  • Mark Bouchard, real estate executive
  • Brandy Grace, Utah Association of Counties

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is one of six legislators with an ethnic and racial minority background. Romero has mixed feelings about the makeup of the commission. She said differing perspectives lead to more comprehensive public policy — as long as those voices are taken seriously. 
“I want to make sure that those individuals aren’t being tokenized and they’re actually being listened to,” Romero said.

Data from the Utah Department of Health show people of color make up nearly 25% of the state’s population but almost half of its coronavirus cases. And the Utah Department of Workforce Services reported more than half of unemployment claims in the state from March 15 to May 2 are from women.

Hemmert is the commission’s co-chair. While discussing the bill during the special session, Hemmert said Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, asked him if the group would consider the needs of minorities. Hemmert said they planned to keep everyone in mind.

“If the commission wasn’t looking at minority populations, I think it wouldn’t be doing its job,” Hemmert said.

Still, Romero said it’s important to have a space where people are empowered to make decisions. That’s why she, Escamilla and the other racial and ethnic minority legislators started the COVID Community Partnership initiative, which last weekend hosted a testing event for underserved communities.

The state coronavirus task force also created a subcommittee in late April to focus its response in minority communities.

Emily Means covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @Em_Means13

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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