ROCHESTER -- With the number of COVID-19 related deaths now over 200,000 across the U.S., researchers at the Mayo Clinic are trying to combat the disparities the pandemic has caused among minority communities.

Dr. Mark Wieland is a Mayo Clinic internal medicine physician. He says the pandemic has amplified existing health disparities.

From a biomedical aspect, the higher infection rates and deaths in these minority, low socioeconomic status populations are related in part to existing health inequities, namely higher rates of chronic diseases, that lead to worse COVID outcomes as well as disproportionate barriers to healthcare access and utilization.

Wieland says one way they are working to close that gap is through a community-academic research partnership with medical experts and community leaders.

The goal is to build a strong relationship with diverse communities to better identify needs, build trust among health professionals, and deliver the right messages to vulnerable populations to prevent the spread of the virus.

In just the first two weeks of the intervention, in late March and early April, these 26 communication leaders reached about 10,000 individuals across six different languages through nine different communication platforms. We then mapped that data to the CDC framework which has informed our ongoing work.

Wieland says the framework has been successful in Olmstead County and has expanded to other communities in southern Minnesota, Florida, and Mississippi.

He says it's their hope the data they have laid out can serve as a model for other collaborations as we continue to steer through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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