A one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work if we are being rational when it comes to dealing with COVID-19.
In a letter sent by the Congressional Black Caucus on April 7 to Robert Redfield, M.D., Director for the Center for Disease Control, CBC is calling for an immediate racial data reporting for COVID-19 in each state, amidst the rising cases and upward trajectory in infection and mortality of Black people with Coronavirus.
The CBC notes that to this date, only nine states and the District of Columbia have been able to release data about the virus spread and infection rate based on race, which only represents about 20% of the country.
With limited data for the deaths as a result of Coronavirus out of the cities and states across the country such as Milwaukee (73%), Chicago (67%), Louisiana (70%), D.C., (58%) it is clear that African Americans in the country are hit the hardest. Therefore, it is understandable why CBC is leading the campaign for a full disclosure of racial data to identify and prioritize the areas of the most significant impact.
In Michigan, African Americans made up of more than 40 percent of the coronavirus deaths but only 14 percent of the overall population.
The members of the Congressional Black Caucus have staged several media and member conference calls in the past few weeks in a bid to highlight the glaring racial disparity. They have also held tele-town halls to connect their constituents with health and government officials who have offered advice on how to navigate the crisis.
Perhaps a good move, the speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), has tapped the Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C), who also happens to be the former CBC Chairman to lead the House’s Coronavirus oversight panel. On the other hand, Democratic Caucus Chairman (Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y) has been actively convening near-daily calls with the members on topics ranging from relief checks and housing assistance to the massive small business loan backlog.
“CBC members have been elected, in large part, to defend the least, the lost and the left behind throughout America, including communities of color,” Said Jeffries. “That is why it’s been so important to see tremendous leadership from the CBC in the midst of this pandemic,” he continued, as he added that it is in the “DNA of the CBC to fight for the most vulnerable among us.”
In New York, the Democratic lawmakers also introduced legislation that compels the federal health officials to post daily data that breaks down COVID-19 cases and deaths by race and ethnicity. The lawmakers argued that demographic information is vital in the fight against this invisible enemy, and also it helps in addressing the disparities in the national response to the Coronavirus outbreak.
“Because of government-sponsored discrimination and systemic racism, communities of color are on the frontlines of this pandemic,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of several sponsors of the legislation in the Senate, said in a statement. “To effectively slow the spread of the virus and ensure our response is robust and equitable, we need comprehensive national data on who is getting infected, who is getting treatment, and who is dying.”
The lawmakers sent a letter on March 28 to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, urging a federal release of the demographic data. So far, the data is yet to be released.
Meanwhile, Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Democrat from Detroit, gave an impassioned plea on a conference call, also urging the leaders to test everyone in the Capitol before placing legislators on back to work. This, she said, is important as it could hasten the spread of the disease among the lawmakers and their constituents.
Maxine Waters has also not been left behind in this campaign. In a floor speech on mid-March, Maxine talked about how Coronavirus has struck close to home for her family: Her sister, infected with COVID-19, is dying in a St. Louis hospital. She went on to urge her colleagues to support the $484 billion relief package signed into law mid-March as it provided critical aid for hospitals and testing.
“Almost every single member of CBC knows someone who has passed away from the COVID-19 pandemic, and all of our communities in one way or another have been adversely impacted in an extraordinary way,” Jeffries told The Hill. “This is a moment where the CBC has risen to the occasion, responding to a crisis that has hit us intimately.”
The CBC has a different ask to the CDC. It wants CDC to prioritize the collection and reporting of crucial public health data, which will include race and the associated risk factors. With this information, CBC is confident that the congress and the administration will work together to prioritize all the efforts to ensure that everyone in America has an equal fighting chance and equitable access to COVID-19 testing and treatment regardless of their race and ethnic background.
“Healthcare disparities in our country have been a long-standing issue and concern for the Congressional Black Caucus. The spread of the Coronavirus has compounded these issues, leaving Black people even more vulnerable. We need to urgently address these disparities with a targeted response to our community,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA-37), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
While the spread and outcome of COVID-19 remain unprecedented, it has not caught us by surprise. The Congressional Black Caucus Healthcare Braintrust, chaired by Rep Robin Kelly (IL-20), focuses on identifying the areas of importance as it relates to healthcare for Black people and advocating for equitable legislative responses.
“Obtaining the data from every state in America is critical to a targeted response that ensures ample resources, including funding and testing, are deployed to the communities hardest hit. The data we are seeing from the few states that are reporting shows that Black people are the most vulnerable and the distribution of resources must reflect this. Without this data, we will continue to risk the lives of people in this country,” said Rep. Robin Kelly, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Healthcare Braintrust.
Right now, it is evident that the healthcare system in the country is severely overstretched, and even before the pandemic hit, the country was dealing with the shortage of medical personnel. The epidemic has not only made clear the weaknesses in the health system, but also it has shown systemic racism, disenfranchisement, and oppression of Black people in America. The primary reason why we have so many Black people being affected by the diseases is because of the underlying structural racism, environmental injustice, income inequality, and the lack of resources in the Black communities leading to prominence of health-related risk factors such as diabetes and hypertension.
If CBC gets data from the CDC and all other parties involved, it will be able to come up with a practical approach to overcoming this health crisis and saving more lives. I support what the CBC’s prerogative and stand when in this whole issue of COVID-19. For us to protect ourselves effectively, we need to know the number of people affected and the trends the disease is following.
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