Racial disparities in coronavirus deaths are now coming to light due to the overwhelming amount of African-Americans dying from COVID-19.
Weeks after warnings from lawmakers and health officials, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams confirmed Tuesday (April 7) that African-Americans were at greater risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. “I and many black Americans are at higher risk for COVID, which is why we need everyone to do their part to slow the spread,” he said. Adams explained that Black Americans with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease are more prone to having the virus in addition to lack of access to proper health care.
In an op-ed for The New York Times titled “The Racial Time Bomb in the Covid-19 Crisis,” Charles M. Blow compared the growing concern to the early days of the H.I.V./AIDS crisis affecting people of color. “On some level, H.I.V. is ravaging the South because Southern states have made a policy decision not to care in a sufficient way because the people suffering are poor and black,” he said while pointing out the stark similarities in how both life-changing moments haven’t provided the demographic with the right resources.
Numbers between race and ethnicity for the virus are limited but Stat News reports Black people in Illinois, made up 29% of confirmed cases and 41% of deaths as of Monday morning, but only make up 15% of the state’s population. ProPublica also points out how Black people make up nearly half of the 941 cases in Milwaukee County and 81% of its 27 deaths–but the population is 26% African-American.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention distributes data on age, gender, and location of COVID-19 patients but not their race or ethnicity. On Tuesday, CDC spokesman Scott Pauley responded to the data about race and ethnicity around the coronavirus. “Unfortunately, case report forms are often missing important data, including race and ethnicity,” he said. “To address this and other data gaps, supplementary surveillance systems are being stood up to better capture ethnicity and race data, as well as other key demographic or clinical information.”
In a letter written by Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren with Ayanna Pressley and Robin L. Kelly to Health and Human Services (HHS), the group called for the correct information to avoid the gap from getting larger.
“The C.D.C. is currently failing to collect and publicly report on the racial and ethnic demographic information of patients tested for and affected by Covid-19,” the letter reads. “Our concerns echo those from some physicians: that decisions to test individuals for the novel coronavirus may be ‘more vulnerable to the implicit biases that every patient and medical professional carry around with them,’ potentially causing ‘black communities and other underserved groups … [to] disproportionately mis[s] out on getting tested for Covid-19. 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.”
It was also announced New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Melissa DeRosa, the top aide for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, promised to release data that reflects ethnicity and race as well. But as DeRosa revealed, hospitals in the Albany area haven’t reported on the race of COVID-19 victims.
“The hospitals actually don’t report the race information directly to the state,” said DeRosa via The New York Post. “So what we end up doing on the back-end is calling the coroners’ offices around the state, after the death has been reported, so there has been a lag.“We understand people want that information. We want that information, too.”