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Dr. Uche Blackstock, founder & CEO, Advancing Health Equity
By The Skanner News
Published: 06 April 2020

Washington, DC (April 6, 2020) – Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and nearly 400 medical professionals issued a demand letter to the United States Department of Health and Human Services and its relevant sub-agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calling for the release of daily racial and ethnic demographic data related to COVID-19 testing, cases, and patient outcomes. The Lawyers’ Committee also filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CDC seeking race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 tests, cases and outcomes. Finally, the Lawyers’ Committee has also issued demand letters to state public health departments across the country calling on them to begin making this data publicly available immediately.

This comprehensive call to action is driven by a collective concern that the lack of transparency by federal and state officials is preventing public health officials from understanding the full impact of this pandemic on Black communities and other communities of color, hampering the ability to develop robust interventions, and potentially enabling further community spread.  

kristen clarke lawyers committee introKristen Clarke, president, executive director, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law“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 healthcare,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Equal access to healthcare 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.”

According to the letter to HHS, “systemic racism and bias in the healthcare system have resulted in chronically poor health outcomes for Black Americans, including higher rates of asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. These co-morbidities render Black Americans more susceptible to severe respiratory complications and death resulting from COVID-19. Inclusive testing practices would help ensure that symptomatic people receive timely care and treatment, and asymptomatic carriers do not continue to transmit COVID-19 to other vulnerable members of their communities.”

“Despite significant advances in healthcare 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,” said Dr. Uche Blackstock, founder & CEO, Advancing Health Equity. “As we have already seen, the COVID19 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 COVID19 pandemic on our already vulnerable populations and will ensure healthcare resources are allocated equitably.”

bell taison dr introTaison Bell, assistant professor in the infectious disease and pulmonary critical care divisions at the University of Virginia“The coronavirus has made itself clear that it does not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, or any other of the means by which we categorize ourselves,” said Taison Bell, assistant professor in the infectious disease and pulmonary critical care divisions at the University of Virginia. “We demand equal access to care and treatment even in the middle of a national pandemic.” 

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. In Illinois, African Americans make up 14.6% of the population, but 29.4% of confirmed cases and 41.2% of deaths as of April 6.  Similarly, Michigan’s population is 14% Black, but African Americans currently make up 34% of COVID19 cases and 40% of deaths. On April 3rd, Pro Publica reported that in Milwaukee County, where the population is 26% Black, African Americans currently comprise “almost half of [the] County’s 941 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths.” The data coming out of these states is likely indicative of the disproportionate impact that COVID19 is having on Black communities and other communities of color throughout the country.

The CDC is not currently publicly reporting racial or ethnic demographic data for COVID19 cases or tests performed across the country. Yet, the CDC requests this critical information from health departments through the COVID19 Case Report Form “to track the impact of the outbreak and inform public health response.” Today’s call to action urges the federal and state agencies to begin publicly reporting this information immediately.  

To read the letter, click here.

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