Black Experience

Civil Rights Lawyers Demand State Numbers with ‘All Deliberate Speed’ as Blacks Die Disparately from COVID-19

It is often said that when America gets a cold, Black America gets pneumonia — or far worse. That has proven to be the case once again this week in the wake of reports that Black people are contracting and dying from the coronavirus in much greater numbers than other races.

“We are deeply concerned that African American communities are being hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that racial bias may be impacting the access they receive to testing and health care,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Equal access to health care is a critical civil rights issue, and during this novel pandemic, the public deserves nothing less than full transparency from this administration and state public health officials. To fully confront this pandemic, we must ensure that communities of color receive equitable health care and treatment during this crisis. Comprehensive and publicly-available racial data is a necessary weapon in the fight to confront COVID-19.”

Clarke said in a phone conference with reporters this week that the Lawyers Committee hopes to obtain volunteer responses and compliance by federal agencies and the states.

“But we’re prepared to use every tool in our arsenal as we move forward” if those responsible for the data do not move with “all deliberate speed.” She implied that the situation could end up in court based on Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race discrimination by any program or activity that receives funds or financial assistance from the federal government as do hospitals and states.

Clarke announced that the Lawyers Committee and more than 400 medical professionals have sent a letter to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services demanding “the release of daily racial and ethnic demographic data related to COVID-19 testing, cases, and patient outcomes,” according to a news release.

Medical experts say the elderly and people with diseases that compromise their respiratory and immune systems are most vulnerable to the coronavirus which has killed more than 12,000 in the U. S. as of Wednesday this week. African-Americans are already disparately in this vulnerable category. However, the Lawyers Committee appears to be angling to assure that blatant race discrimination is not playing a roll in the disparate deaths. Some states appear to be refusing to release the numbers by race.

“Recently analyzed health data indicates that African Americans in some states and counties are being infected and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than whites,” says the release, which gives the following statistics:

  • In Illinois, African-Americans make up 14.6 percent of the population, but 29.4 percent of confirmed cases and 41.2 percent of deaths as of April 6.
  • Similarly, Michigan’s population is 14 percent Black, but African-Americans currently make up 34 percent of COVID-19 cases and 40 percent of deaths.
  • On April 3, Pro Publica reported that in Milwaukee County, where the population is 26 percent Black, African-Americans currently comprise “almost half of [the] County’s 941 cases and 81 percent of its 27 deaths.”

“The data coming out of these states is likely indicative of the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 is having on Black communities and other communities of color throughout the country,” the release states.

The Lawyers Committee points out that the “CDC is not currently publicly reporting racial or ethnic demographic data for COVID-19 cases or tests performed across the country. Yet, the CDC requests this critical information from health departments through the COVID-19 Case Report Form “to track the impact of the outbreak and inform public health response.”

Dr. Uche Blackstock, founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, said the COVID-19 crisis will bring racial health disparities to the forefront of health policy issues.

“Despite significant advances in health care and health technology over the last five decades, racialized health disparities have been both persistent and profound. Black Americans have carried the highest burden of chronic diseases, shortest life expectancies, and highest maternal and infant mortality rates,” Blackstock said in a release. “As we have already seen, the COVID-19 pandemic has and will undoubtedly amplify racialized health inequities, further devastating Black and other marginalized communities. Collecting racial and ethnic demographic data on testing, cases, and health outcomes will be imperative to mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our already vulnerable populations and will ensure health care resources are allocated equitably.”

In the press call held Monday, reporter Stephon Johnson of the New York Amsterdam News asked why New York state would release infection numbers by counties, by burrow and zip code; yet has not taken the extra step to release the numbers by race since that can be deduced by zip code.

“It’s hard to understand intent,” Clark responded. “What we do know is that we face a grave crisis. And everything that we have seen, including reports from health professionals on the front lines and the data that have emerged from pockets of the country, all make clear that this crisis is having a starker impact on African-Americans. We hope that officials will find the political will to do their part and to bring transparency to the crisis to shine a light on all of the ways in which the crisis is impacting communities.”

She continued, “We have seen data along lines of geography and gender. We’ve seen it broken down by day. And it’s critical that officials right now take the next step and shine a light on the racial impact that COVID-19 is having across the country.”

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