Three Professors Serving on County COVID-19 Task Force
By Brian Hiro
Three Cal State San Marcos professors are serving on a task force that is developing policies and programs to help members of underserved communities in the San Diego region that have been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Konane Martinez, the chair of the anthropology department, anthropology professor Laurette McGuire and kinesiology professor Richard Armenta are all invited members of San Diego County’s Regional COVID-19 Taskforce for Equitable Recovery. The group was formed over the summer and is being led by Nathan Fletcher, a county supervisor.
The three faculty members are lending their expertise in health disparities and inequities to a data subcommittee, which advises the larger task force and county supervisors on the importance of COVID-related data transparency as well as messaging related to the pronounced COVID health disparities impacting local underserved, migrant, tribal, racial and ethnic communities.
The subcommittee is also developing a plan to work collaboratively with community organizations and members to ensure equitable access to information, data, testing and future vaccines.
Martinez, McGuire and Armenta all joined the task force in July, and since then they have participated in bimonthly meetings. Martinez said she was invited after expressing concerns to colleagues at the county’s Health and Human Services Agency about how data on the growing and disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases among Latino communities was being presented to the public.
Latinos comprise 62.8% of COVID-19 cases and 47.7% of COVID-19 deaths in the county, even though they represent only 32.6% of the population, according to Martinez. She is an applied medical anthropologist with more than 20 years of experience working with Latino immigrant communities in the U.S.-Mexico border region.
“My lifelong work has been to understand complex social, economic and structural conditions that lead to these disproportionate outcomes,’ Martinez said. “I hope that my perspective can help the county understand that this is a social justice issue that can aid in seeking solutions to increase access to information, testing and treatment for all communities.
“I am also very concerned by the lack of testing happening in the North County region. We believe that data may be lacking in terms of the prevalence of COVID-19 in the tribal regions as well as among Latino communities.”
McGuire specializes in medical and indigenous anthropology. Her research lies at the intersection of biomedicine, genetics and race, exploring how race, class and knowledge are co-produced through medical discourse.
“Many of us have been working on the impact of structural racism on health outcomes in communities of color for years,” McGuire said. “COVID-19 and the historical moment in which we live has brought the impact of structural racism on the health of Black and brown people to national attention.”
Armenta conducts research on health disparities among Hispanic and American Indian communities, with a primary focus on substance abuse and infectious disease transmission prevention. He said he was invited to serve on the committee because of his expertise in tribal epidemiology and from working with the local tribal community to improve health equity.
“The task force is crucial to ensure the equitable allocation of resources and collection of data to understand the impact of COVID-19 in minoritized and underserved communities,” Armenta said. “Our work is helping inform how data is used to address gaps in testing, treatment and care for the disease.”
Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist
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