CDC awards state $38M; Money is to be used to bridge pandemic health disparities

CASPER – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded Wyoming $38.3 million to address health disparities in the state’s pandemic response. 

Wyoming’s grant is part of a larger $2.25 billion CDC program to bridge the gap for “underserved” communities by putting resources specifically toward high-risk populations, particularly where a geographic or racial health disparity exists. 

“Data show that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected some populations and placed them at higher risk, including those who are medically underserved, racial and ethnic minority groups, and people living in rural communities. These groups may experience higher risk of exposure, infection, hospitalization, and mortality,” a CDC statement on the grant reads. 

Indeed, COVID-19 did not touch all Wyomingites equally. American Indians make up less than 3 percent of the state’s population but make up more than 7 percent of the state’s 725 virus deaths. 

In addition to addressing racial disparities, the CDC has required grantees to dedicate a specific dollar amount to serve rural communities. 

Nearly 60 percent of Wyoming’s award is dedicated to that purpose, according to the CDC. The state has not finalized exactly how the money will be spent, Wyoming Department of Health spokesperson Kim Deti said. But the department is required to submit a “work plan” for the two-year grant to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that includes those details.

“This funding represents a significant investment in health equity, which presents a unique opportunity for Wyoming to support underserved and rural communities that often experience greater barriers to health,” health department administrator Stephanie Pyle said via email. “We are particularly excited that this funding allows for building, leveraging and expanding infrastructure support for COVID-19 prevention and control and for mobilizing partners and collaborators to advance equity and address social determinants of health related to health disparities.” 

The CDC provided grantees with concrete examples for how they might spend the grant dollars. 

The money can be used for a number of initiatives, ranging from better, more focused data collection and reporting in areas with higher risk populations to educating providers on why some populations are skeptical of the medical field. 

The federal agency laid out four strategies to guide how states and municipalities spend the money: resources and services, data and reporting, infrastructure support, and partner mobilization. 

Spending on resources and services, for example, could include providing more at-home COVID-19 tests to higher-risk populations or coordinating more accessible vaccination opportunities. Infrastructure support could mean creating a state-level “health equity office” or hiring community partners as liaisons, according to the suggestions made by the CDC. 

The state has two years to spend the federal dollars and is currently outlining how to spend the money.