Democratic lawmakers are taking steps to make sure Black and brown people don’t get left behind during the coronavirus pandemic. Considering recent reports of Black communities being largely impacted, politicians have no time to waste.
According to Associated Press, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley sent a letter on Friday to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar calling out the lack of racial data on who’s getting tested and treated for the coronavirus. They argue that comprehensive demographic data for the virus that causes COVID-19 doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, according to AP, “cities with large black and nonwhite Hispanic populations emerged as new hot spots for the spread of the virus” over the weekend.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois also signed the letter to Azar.
“Any attempt to contain COVID-19 in the United States will have to address its potential spread in low-income communities of color, first and foremost to protect the lives of people in those communities, but also to slow the spread of the virus in the country as a whole,” the lawmakers wrote. “This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities.”
According to USA Today, Dr. Melissa Clarke — the former assistant dean in the Howard University College of Medicine in Washington D.C. — said that racial health disparities and other stressors confronted by people of color, such as racism and poverty, are factors in these groups disproportionately having the “very diseases that COVID19 presents a problem for.”
Such diseases include heart disease, lung disease, including asthma and chronic bronchitis, high blood pressure and autoimmune diseases such as lupus. All these conditions disproportionately affect Black people, Latinx folks and indigenous people. Clarke said that people of color aren’t necessarily more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, but they are more vulnerable to having more severe manifestations because of underlying conditions.
U.S. cities with large Black and Brown populations, such as Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans, are already experiencing high cases of the coronavirus. New York City alone has been deemed the national epicenter of the outbreak, reporting more than 36,000 confirmed cases and 790 deaths as of Monday.
Over in Wisconsin, Milwaukee county witnessed the first eight people to die of COVID-19 complications and they were all Black. According to the most recent Census statistics, 27 percent of Milwaukee County’s 946,000-person population was made up of Black people. In Wisconsin, Black people account for just 7 percent of the state’s 5.8 million residents.
“The deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading fast among Milwaukee’s African American population,” Milwaukee Alderman Russell W. Stamper II said in a statement. “But those deaths — and a strict citywide Stay-at-Home order — don’t seem to be getting the attention of enough people in the community.”
Lawmakers are calling on the HHS secretary to direct the department’s sub-agencies, such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to partner with municipalities, states and private labs to ensure that racial and ethnic data are being collected during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we’re flying blind because we’re playing catch-up when it comes to educating the public about who is at risk,” said Pressley in a statement. “In all things, I strive to push for equity. And that is not going to change, certainly not in the midst of a pandemic.”
Pressley has been quite vocal about how the government can do more to address the coronavirus and the vulnerable people impacted. She even had criticism about the recent stimulus package signed into law by Donald Trump.
“This bill will provide some direct cash assistance, pause foreclosures and evictions, provide temporary payment relief to student loan borrowers, and get some resources to those experiencing homelessness and those behind the wall,” she said in a series of tweets. “But I’m still livid. The bill provides short-term stop gap relief for workers, families and small businesses but it also provides massive bail outs to corporations. And this bill also goes out of the way to leave behind our immigrant neighbors in a time of crisis.”
Warren, who recently dropped out of the presidential race, co-signed Pressley and their letter to the HHS.
“Decades of structural racism have prevented so many Black and Brown families from accessing quality health care, affordable housing, and financial security,” Warren said in a statement. “And the coronavirus crisis is blowing these disparities wide open. We need the government to step up in a big way to ensure that communities of color have equal access to free testing and treatment. Congresswoman Pressley and I aren’t going to let up until we see solid data and real progress.”
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