With evidence growing that African Americans are disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus, only nine states and the District of Columbia have released a racial breakdown of those diagnosed with the disease.
Concerned health experts, members of the U.S. Congress, and civil rights organizations have ramped up their call for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to provide a detailed report.
“We know that there’s a disproportionate rate of infections and death nationwide,” stated Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.) in a conference call with the Black Press of America represented by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
“It’s happening in all of our [African American] communities nationwide. We feel that it’s an emergency that needs to be addressed right away, and, importantly, we need data, and the CDC is not compiling data,” Bass added.
Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), the chair of the CBC’s Health Braintrust, agreed that statistics along racial lines are vital.
“The data already released shows troubling trends for African Americans that must be addressed to ensure public health,” Kelly said.
African Americans makeup about 18 percent of the population in Michigan but account for approximately 40 percent of coronavirus-related deaths, according to Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Michigan).
“I am speaking as just one part of the major piece of concern, and that’s the alarming way in how this pandemic is having an impact on our Black community,” Lawrence said. “We are the number one target for this disease. We have pre-existing conditions, and yet we’re told to go home when we visit the emergency room. We know that there must be some form of regulation in place for testing and getting testing sites and equipment into the community.”
A published report this week noted that the Louisiana Department of Health revealed that 70 percent of coronavirus deaths in the state are African American, despite Black people making up just 32 percent of the population.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, African Americans reportedly accounted for nearly half of coronavirus cases and more than 80 percent of deaths related to the disease.
“I have seen in my waiting room mostly black and brown patients who are essential workers and service workers who can’t afford to stay home,” Uche Blackstone, the CEO of Advancing Health Equity, told The Hill. “These are the ones that I see presenting to the clinic with COVID-19 symptoms.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) led a group from congress recently in demanding that the federal government release data about racial disparities in America’s response to the pandemic.
Pressley said she and her colleagues made clear in the letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that the government is failing to collect and publicly report on the racial and ethnic demographic information for coronavirus tests and patients.
“Without demographic data, policymakers and researchers will have no way to identify and address ongoing
disparities and health inequities that risk accelerating the impact of the novel coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes,” the letter said. “Although COVID-19 does not discriminate along racial or ethnic lines, existing racial disparities and inequities in health outcomes and health care access may mean that the nation’s response to preventing and mitigating its harms will not be felt equally in every community.”
Dr. Ebony Hilton and Dr. Taison Bell, of the Virginia Medical School, have publicly demanded the release of racial data surrounding the virus.”Release the data,” said Dr. Hilton, who continuously posts that message on social media sites like Twitter.
“We see in states that aren’t reporting on racial demographics that there’s been a surge in patients dying from respiratory distress and respiratory failure,” Dr. Bell said.
The NNPA and its Coronavirus Task Force was the first media related entity in the U.S. to declare a “State of Emergency for Black America” as the fatalities among black Americans continue to rise across the nation. Using social media to increase public awareness about COVID-19, the NNPA is encouraging the use of the following hashtags: #SaveBlackLives and #NNPACoronavirusTaskForce.