The Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced on Wednesday multiple funding opportunities to promote racial and geographic equity in the COVID-19 response, according to a statement by the agency.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave the DHS $27 million “to combat inequities related to COVID-19 infection, illness, and death, including $9 million dedicated to rural communities,” DHS officials said, in a news release.

In addition to rural areas, the DHS said it also aims to reach the communities of color.

“Communities of color are bearing the brunt of this pandemic, which has exacerbated existing health disparities in Wisconsin,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake. “Racism and systemic barriers, including lack of access to quality health care, job opportunities, housing, and transportation, have made these Wisconsinites more vulnerable to COVID-19. With these investments in our communities, we can support a just recovery, and address the broader structures and conditions that promote health so that everyone in our state has an opportunity to thrive.”

An additional $13 million in funding has been set aside to continue the Vaccine Community Outreach grant program, which funds organizations across Wisconsin to increase vaccinations by serving as trusted messengers within their communities, build vaccine confidence, and reduce barriers that hinder vaccine access for marginalized or underserved populations. 

In Wisconsin, 21 counties are in ‘Critically High’ category and 21 in the ‘Very High’ group. The vaccination rate in the state is below national figures of 56.7% for one dose of vaccine and 53.8% for those who have completed the series. In Marathon County, 52.6% (71,384) have received at least one dose.

DHS also announced ‘Mobilizing Communities for a Just Response’ — a grant program that “seeks to support Wisconsin’s local and tribal health departments and nonprofits in addressing health inequities and the broader consequences of the COVID-19-pandemic.”

Gov. Tony Evers called Wisconsin’s vaccination program a “national leader” in the effort and said more than 3 million Wisconsin residents have so far been vaccinated.

Read the full press statement here.