(RICHMOND, Va.) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded $30.6 million to Virginia to address health inequities created and exacerbated in high-risk and underserved communities by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two-year grant provides $27.3 million to the state and an additional $3.3 million for the Virginia Beach Department of Public Health.

“We know COVID-19 has had an uneven impact on communities. Throughout this pandemic we have worked hard to apply resources evenly and equitably. These additional funds are allowing us to enhance those efforts, particularly in those areas where disparities in COVID-19 testing, cases and deaths, and vaccination rates continue to exist. Disparities exist across race, ethnicity and geography. The largest disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths were found in census tracts with the greatest percentage of poverty and in areas that are more rural. We are using these dollars to enhance targeted outreach and efforts,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A.

The funds are part of a $2.5 billion investment across the U.S. to provide funding to address COVID-19 and advance health equity for racial and ethnic minority groups and rural populations within state, local territorial and freely associated state health jurisdictions.

Approximately $12.1 million will be used in rural Virginia communities. The majority of the grant – $14.2 million – will be administered through mini-grant programs in communities.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) sought the funds under a four-prong strategy that includes infrastructure, data collection, prevention and control, and working with local partners such as historically black colleges and universities and faith communities.

“The Virginia Department of Health is committed to addressing health inequities and working with our community partners,” said Sable K. Nelson Dyer, acting Director of the Office of Health Equity. “We know we can’t do it alone.  It’s going to take a community-centered approach.”

The CDC’s overarching goals for the grant are to address COVID-19-related health disparities; improve and increase testing and contact tracing among underserved populations and those at higher risk, including racial and ethnic minority groups and people living in rural communities; and to improve state, local, U.S. territorial and freely associated state health department capacity and services to prevent and control COVID-19 infection (or transmission) among those populations.

The funding was made available via four categories: state awards, local health departments serving a county or city with a population of greater than or equal to 2 million, local health departments serving a city with a population of 400,000 or more but less than 2 million, and U.S. territories and freely associated states. Virginia Beach is the only city in Virginia that falls into the third category.

The Office of Health Equity is coordinating the grant. VDH has also established a COVID-19 Funding Steering Committee to ensure equitable distribution of funds across the Commonwealth of Virginia.