SOUTH PORTLAND — South Portland city officials are advertising a new temporary position to address the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on minorities in the city.

According to a listing on the job site, the city is looking for a part-time temporary “Covid-19 Outreach Specialist – Minority Populations.” The job pays $18-$23 per hour, with 20 hours per week.

“The person in this position will conduct outreach to community members through connections with various community leaders, community groups, businesses, and organizations to achieve the goal of assisting with information and resources (healthcare resources, safety precautions, and supplies) with which to weather the COVID-19 crisis,” the advertisement reads.

City Manager Scott Morelli said this week the position will be paid for with grant money distributed by the state to communities for combating the coronavirus pandemic. In all, he said, South Portland has received $294,000, which will also go toward establishing a separate deputy local health officer position. Both positions will remain active until the grant money runs out on Oct. 31, he said.

Morelli said the decision to focus on minority populations in the city was not based on local demographics, but statewide data that indicates the state’s Black population in particular is suffering more from the disease.

“I think it’s easy to say based on the statewide numbers, and that most COVID-19 cases are in Cumberland County, that we have an issue with that here,” he said.

According to the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of July 22 there are 3,723 cases of COVID-19 reported statewide, with 1,974 in Cumberland County. While U.S. census data shows Black people make up only 1.7% of the state’s population, the Maine CDC data shows that statewide 848 patients, or nearly 23%, are “Black or African-American.”

The Maine chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union hosted an online group press conference on June 25, where minority leaders in various Maine communities said the figures show a grim consequence of systemic racism in Maine and called on Gov. Janet Mills to pay attention.

“We come together today to call for urgent and bold action to address the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism,” said state Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, about the press conference. The ACLU declined to comment on the new South Portland position.

While the state numbers don’t break down the race-related figures by county or municipality, Morelli said the state figures were enough to convince him of racial disparity among COVID-19 patients and the need for city officials to do something.

“Just through correlation we figured this is probably an issue we’re facing in South Portland,” he said.

Margaret Brownlee, who is spearheading efforts to create South Portland’s first human rights commission, this week praised the city’s efforts to hire a person to address minority needs during the pandemic. There are many reasons why the Black population has such a strong proportion of COVID-19 cases, such as minority workers living in close quarters or being employed more often in “essential” positions that keep them from working at home in isolation. Any effort by the city to improve the disease’s awareness among the minority population, she said, will be welcome.

“I think it’s great that they’re doing that,” she said of city officials.

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