Op-EdOpinion

JOHNSON: Don’t Scapegoat Black Texans for State’s COVID Surge

In the strongest possible terms, the NAACP condemns the incendiary comments made by Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in an interview with Fox News this past week. Plain and simple, unvaccinated African Americans in Texas are not the cause of the surging cases of COVID-19 plaguing the state, nor is this the case across the country. These are the facts.

To make such a statement so publicly is not just idiotic and sensationalized, it is patently wrong. It’s a false, racist GOP narrative that needs to be ended now, and a higher standard of conduct is demanded. There’s no instance in which a nation’s life-or-death battle against a terrible pandemic should ever be politicized.

Conveniently faulting the Black community, of course, is an age-old tactic that we’ve all seen time and again. We know this game. It’s a ruse to distract Americans from what’s really going on as many Republicans work fiercely against mask mandates in public spaces — and even as Texas’ own governor, Greg Abbott, tested positive for COVID-19 this month.

Abbott, the second-term governor there, has opposed health mandates designed to minimize the spread of the pandemic in advance of his 2022 reelection bid, including defying public health officials’ warnings and permitting businesses to reopen at full capacity earlier this year.

Republicans in the Lone Star State previously blamed Democrats, and yes even immigrants crossing the southern border for its steadily climbing pandemic numbers. In his interview on Fox’s “The Laura Ingraham Show” Thursday, Patrick took things a predictable step further, contending that African Americans are “the biggest group in most states” not vaccinated to date, though data shows that in his own state there are far more whites and Hispanics who are unvaccinated.

In truth, as compared with Texas’ Black residents, nearly four million more white Texans have yet to be vaccinated, and some four million fewer Hispanics there are vaccinated vs. Black residents as well. Patrick’s response errantly merged population percentages with those of actually unvaccinated people, though simple math glaringly disproves his argument. Its Black citizens comprise only 12.9% of the Texas population.

Interestingly, the state’s current caseload is at its highest rates since this past winter. Hospitals there remain overwhelmed in spite of the valiant daily work of medical professionals; its ICUs this week besting the seven-day moving average of 16,000 cases per day. Worse, the most vulnerable young Texans are being hit especially hard by the pandemic right now, with the state leading the nation in the number of children hospitalized for COVID-19 according to the latest data.

Obviously, however, COVID-19’s foreboding daily impacts belie just Texas. If my own home state of Mississippi is an example, as of the end of last week we were marking the third-highest rate of growth in coronavirus cases across the entire U.S., at an average of just under 100 new cases of infection reported per 100,000 residents. These spikes cannot be cavalierly ascribed to Blacks, Democrats or anyone else solely. The leading 19 of 20 counties afflicted with COVID-19 in my state are all Republican strongholds, and/or delivered the white majority vote to Trump in 2020.

This virus doesn’t care about race, ethnicity, gender or political leanings and affiliations, and it is not something for elected officials to cavalierly spread falsehoods or misinformation about. Doing so is dangerous and costs lives. But if we’re to defeat it as a nation, the best weapon we have is to continue to fight forward, with the facts.

Derrick Johnson is president and CEO of the NAACP.

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