Today, February 18, in Jacksonville, Florida, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra urged Floridians to get vaccinated and boosted and spotlighted the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to boost vaccine confidence, COVID-19 testing, and support frontline workers. During the trip, Secretary Becerra hosted a roundtable with a grassroots organization working to increase vaccinations and vaccine confidence in the Black community, visited a COVID-19 testing site, and toured a hospital. Throughout the trip, he engaged with local elected leaders, volunteers, and health care workers who have been fighting to keep Americans healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Secretary Becerra began his day by leading a roundtable with Jacksonville local elected leaders and faith leaders, and Black Men Engaged — one of many partner organizations of the HHS ‘We Can Do This’ Public Education Campaign (PEC) to increase vaccine confidence and uptake. During the roundtable, he emphasized the importance of empowering trusted messengers to reach communities where they are, especially urban, rural, and underserved communities. Leaders for Black Men Engaged spoke about the challenges of reaching the African American community and the victories that they see every day when they engage people on a human level.
“Community organizations, such as Black Men Engaged, are vital to advancing the health and wellbeing of America. From its leadership, to its volunteers, and everyone in between, Black Men Engaged has worked tirelessly to promote the importance of vaccinations against COVID-19,” said Secretary Becerra.
As Secretary Becerra emphasized, this pandemic has impacted all American communities, and so has HHS’s response through the PEC – an effort that has leveraged partnerships, paid media, earned media, and digital outreach to get Americans the facts about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Secretary Becerra also toured a COVID-19 testing site organized by Black Men Engaged at Bethel Baptist Church where he met with workers and discussed the Biden-Harris Administration’s focus on testing access as part of the whole-of-government COVID-19 response. As part of President Biden’s commitment, HHS is making one billion rapid tests available through COVIDtests.gov in addition to supporting state and local testing efforts throughout the country.
Finally, Secretary Becerra held a roundtable with frontline workers at University of Florida Health Jacksonville (UF Health), met with hospital leadership, and toured the facility. During the tour, hospital staff provided Secretary Becerra with a demonstration of one of their extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machines, which saved the life of a 27-year-old man who spent six months at UF Health after contracting COVID-19. Secretary Becerra listened as providers described the heavy burden they felt as they move into the third year of the pandemic and made it clear that HHS will continue prioritizing the wellbeing of our health care workers.
This visit comes on the heels of multiple HHS efforts to combat worker burnout, including $19 million through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) for rural workforce training, $103 million for responding to staffing shortages and promoting mental health among health care workers, and over $18 billion through the Provider Relief Fund to support COVID-19 mitigation in rural communities.