Democratic Lawmakers Call Out Lack Of Racial Data In Virus Testing To Address Disparities In Response

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Democratic Lawmakers
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., left, stands onstage with Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., before speaking at a campaign event, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Democratic lawmakers are spotlighting disparities in the availability of racial data they say is needed to adequately fight the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Massachusetts Congress members Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar noting the lack of comprehensive demographic data for people tested and/or treated for the disease, The Associated Press (AP) reported.  

With coronavirus cases on a continual rise in the U.S., cities with predominately Black and non-white Hispanic populations have risen as epicenters, the report states. New Orleans, Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit are all experiencing major outbreaks and deaths form the disease.

The letter comes shortly after a group of doctors in Virginia expressed their concern that Black Americans might not be getting tested like they should.

““Any attempt to contain COVID-19 in the United States will have to address its potential spread in low-income communities of color, first and foremost to protect the lives of people in those communities, but also to slow the spread of the virus in the country as a whole,” the letter said.

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Shared exclusively with AP on Monday, the letter was also signed by Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California and Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois.

The lawmakers warned of the danger to not only Black and brown communities, but America if the information was not made available and used in the nation’s response.

“This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities,” the letter said.

They asked Azar to have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration work with local government and testing labs to collect the demographic data on race and ethnicity, etc.

“Communities of color disproportionately lack access to adequate & affordable healthcare as is. Today I’m urging @SecAzar to address racial disparities in the response to #COVID-19 bc we must ensure no one is left out in the federal response,” Pressley tweeted.

“Decades of structural racism have prevented so many Black and Brown families from accessing quality health care, affordable housing, and financial security, and the coronavirus crisis is blowing these disparities wide open,” Warren said in a statement. “We need the government to step up in a big way to ensure that communities of color have equal access to free testing and treatment. Congresswoman Pressley and I aren’t going to let up until we see solid data and real progress.”

According to AP, a spokesperson from Azar’s office didn’t confirm the letter had been received, nor did the CDC respond to its request for comment. AP reported the spokesperson did say they were “working to respond” to Congress members’ communications about the coronavirus.

The letter cited the country’s negative history of medical malpractice, discrimination and neglect against Black people in the healthcare system as a reason care might not be sought out immediately. Add to that the fact that Black people and other people of color have disproportionately higher rates of pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., and the risk is exacerbated.

This point is underscored by the fact that all of the people who died of the virus in Milwaukee County were Black. Democratic Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers noted how the deaths in his state highlighted the increased risk Black residents have.

“The severity of this disease in the African American community is a crisis within a crisis,” Evers said.