Health Experts Decry Disparate Impact of Coronavirus Outbreak on Communities of Color
Washington, D.C. (June 5, 2020)— Yesterday, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, held a briefing on how structural inequities have led to disproportionate coronavirus infections and deaths in African American, Latino, and Native American communities.
Chairman Clyburn began the briefing by acknowledging the citizens who are coming together to protest racial injustices in response to the death of George Floyd:
“[T]hese protests are about more than the treatment of African Americans at the hands of the police. They are also about the systemic racial inequities that have festered in our society for years and are now magnified by the coronavirus crisis. This racial inequity is particularly stark in health care, and has been laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Briefers included Dr. Uché Blackstock, CEO of Advancing Health Equity; Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore Health Commissioner; Dr. Eva Galvez of Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center; Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians; and Avik Roy, President of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.
The briefers explained that communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus due to longstanding racial inequities in healthcare, jobs, and housing, and they warned that these communities were also likely to be harmed if the country reopens too soon. The briefers urged the federal government to protect minority communities through robust testing and tracing, by addressing preexisting racial disparities, and by producing more complete racial data on the impact of the coronavirus.
On the day of the Select Subcommittee’s briefing, the Trump Administration finally issued guidance to adhere to the CARES Act mandate to collect coronavirus testing data by race and ethnicity. This guidance will go into effect starting on August 1.
Briefers provided the following additional information:
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated structural racism and inequality.
- Dr. Blackstock said, “Structural racism, through social and economic policies that disadvantage Black people, has placed Black Americans at risk for illness and death. It has been the key driving force behind the factors that determine an individual’s and communities’ health outcomes.”
- Dr. Galvez said that her Latino patients, including farmworkers, are disproportionately testing positive for coronavirus. She explained that these patients are often essential workers who “work in crews or groups standing side by side in rows or on factory lines,” often without any protective equipment, and that these workers often lack “unemployment benefits, vacation or paid sick leave.” She noted that Latino communities are vulnerable due to a “[l]ack of access to appropriate housing and health care, food insecurity and unsafe working environments.”
The federal government must take strong action to protect communities of color.
- Echoing other bipartisan health experts and mayors who previously appeared before the Select Subcommittee, Dr. Wen explained that to combat coronavirus, “[w]e know that we need testing, contact tracing, quarantining, isolation,” as well as treatment. She emphasized that these services must be accessible to minority communities and “reach people where they are.”
- Describing the American Indian community, Ms. Sharp said, “Long before the pandemic hit this country, we were already in a crisis.” She explained: “[W]hat we’ve found is that not only do we have an inability to protect ourselves during this pandemic, but … every sector of the funding that we receive from the federal government is chronically underfunded, whether that’s law enforcement, health care, education. Every part of our public life is deeply impacted.”
Rushing to reopen without a national strategy would cause further disparate harm.
- Dr. Wen explained that states have not met the White House criteria to reopen safely, noting: “[M]any public health experts, including myself, have argued that no state has met these criteria. Many states have not met the criteria for consistent decline in the number of cases, but no state has met the capabilities—the widespread testing, for example—that we need. And that’s because we need national leadership, a national strategy to get there.
- Dr. Blackstock warned, “[I]f we rush to reopening, we’re going to get into the same predicament that we got into in the beginning, and it may even be worse. And the people that are going to be the most disproportionately impacted, are the same communities. Black communities and other communities of color are going to see even more devastation.”
The Trump Administration must provide racial data so resources can be equitably distributed.
- Dr. Blackstock observed: “The federal Administration’s response to the data collection has been quite anemic. Even the data we have from the CDC is incredibly incomplete. We need the full data to get the full picture of the degree of devastation to these communities of color. Without the data, we don’t know how [many] resources these communities need. That’s why we really need every state and locality to disclose, not only hospitalizations and death, but we also need to know testing. We’ve seen that Black Americans are less likely to be tested, and then when they go the hospital, they’re more likely to be admitted.”