On July 19, 2021, the South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health (IMPH) and the North Carolina Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) launched the Carolinas Pandemic Preparedness Task Force with funding and support provided by The Duke Endowment, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation (an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association), and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Guided by a focus on equity and an understanding of the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on historically marginalized and vulnerable groups, the task force brings together representatives from both states to examine lessons learned during the current pandemic and develop actionable recommendations to strengthen future pandemic preparedness and response efforts.

The task force is co-chaired by the University of South Carolina Interim President Dr. Harris Pastides and North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Machelle Baker Sanders. Members of the task force include more than 80 representatives from a wide variety of sectors with knowledge and expertise related to the COVID-19 response, including education, business, emergency management and public safety, advocacy groups and community representatives, research, and health. In alignment with the task force’s focus on equity and considering the recommendations of the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force, the meaningful inclusion of people with lived experience, which we are defining as “someone who saw the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic firsthand,” has been a key priority in identifying task force (and future/potential workgroup) members.

During the first task force meeting, Dr. Betsey Tilson, chief medical officer and state health director for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Abdoulaye Diedhiou, director of the Division of Acute Disease Epidemiology for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, shared updates on the current status of the COVID-19 response, disproportionate impacts on historically marginalized and vulnerable populations, and contextual factors that shaped each state’s response early in the pandemic. Kimberly Clement, healthcare preparedness program manager for the North Carolina Office of Emergency Medical Services, shared information on the COVID-19 response in health care facilities across the state, state-level emergency management systems and processes, and resource limitations during the first months of the pandemic. Tom Allen, director of safety, transportation, and emergency response for the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff - Rural Broadband Grant Program, shared information on telecommunications, broadband infrastructure, safety measures taken to protect utility workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the connection between pandemic preparedness and disaster relief efforts.

The task force will meet eight additional times, and each state will publish a report with state-specific and cross-cutting recommendations in July 2022. For additional information on the Carolinas Pandemic Preparedness Task Force, click here.