U.S. Capitol Building
The U.S. Capitol Building (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

As the death toll from the novel coronavirus mounts, it’s clear that African Americans are dying at alarmingly higher rates than anyone else.

Data related to ethnicity has remained elusive, but a group of U.S. senators led by Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California has introduced the Equitable Data Collection Disclosure on COVID-19 Act.

The senators said they want transparency.

The bill is identical to what was introduced in the U.S. House and co-sponsored by a group of 80 members of Congress, including Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee and Karen Bass of California and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

“The coronavirus crisis is further exposing the disparity in basic human rights faced by black and brown communities across the country,” Brown said in a news release. “We are not doing enough to protect everyone in our country from this crisis, and without comprehensive data on who is affected, and why, we will not be able to beat this virus.”

The senators cited data from a recent Columbus Dispatch report that revealed that 20 percent of the 5,512 confirmed cases in Ohio were Black patients, despite African Americans making up only 12 percent of Ohio’s population.

The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect and report racial and other demographic data on COVID-19 testing, treatment, and fatality rates, and provide a summary of the final statistics and a report to Congress within 60 days after the end of the public health emergency.

It would require HHS to use all available surveillance systems to post daily updates on the CDC website showing data on testing, treatment, and fatalities, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, sex, age, socioeconomic status, disability status, county, and other demographic information.

The legislation comes as reports across the United States point to stark racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and fatalities. In Michigan, Black residents account for 33 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases and 40 percent of fatalities, despite making up only 14 percent of the state’s population.

In Louisiana, 70 percent of those who have died from COVID-19 so far are Black, compared with 32 percent of the state’s population.

Initial data from Boston shows that among people whose race was reported, more than 40 percent of people infected were Black, compared with only 25 percent of the population. Recently, Chelsea, Mass., a predominately Latino community, was cited as a hot spot in the COVID-19 outbreak, with initial reporting confirming 400 new cases, according to a news release from the senators.

Specifically, the Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure on COVID-19 Act would require the reporting of the following data disaggregated by race, ethnicity, sex, age, socioeconomic status, disability status, county, and other demographic information:

• Data related to COVID-19 testing, including the number of individuals tested and the number of tests that were positive.
• Data related to treatment for COVID-19, including hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions and duration.
• Data related to COVID-19 outcomes, including fatalities.

The bill would also authorize $50 million in funding for the CDC, state public health agencies, the Indian Health Service, and other agencies to improve their data collection infrastructure and create an inter-agency commission to make recommendations on improving data collection and transparency and equitably responding to this crisis.

Earlier this month, Brown co-signed a letter to the administration regarding COVID-19-related disparities.

The letter highlights racial disparities in infection and mortality rate and urges the administration to work with states to provide disaggregated racial data to the CDC in their COVID-19 case reporting.

“The letter also requests an update on the administration’s outreach efforts to minority communities, as well as non-English-speaking communities,” Brown said. “Lastly the letter encourages the administration to ensure diverse participation in any COVID-19 vaccine or drug trials.”

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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