Politico newspaper hosted Coronavirus Special Report: The Pandemic’s Impact on Minorities April 28, 2020, with the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressperson Karen Bass (D-CA) on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. She was joined by Politico reporter Laura Barron Lopez and by Dr. Uché Blackstock, MD, Founder & CEO, Advancing Health Equity. As noted in the opening, African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately at risk of being hospitalized or dying from Covid-19.
As highlighted in an earlier Children’s Monitor article, detailing a story by the Washington Post and other news outlets, data from several jurisdictions across the country show an overrepresentation of African American infections and deaths. As noted in the Washington Post article, in Louisiana, black Americans make up only a third of the state’s population but are 70 percent of all COVID-19 deaths. Similarly, in Michigan, African Americans are 14 percent of the population, but a third have tested positive. In Illinois, African Americans are 15 percent of the population, but 28 percent of positive test results and 43 percent of fatalities.”
Congressperson Bass discussed the urgent need this pandemic is presenting and said that there is a lack of commitment to national testing, contact tracing, and testing with rapids results.
Without these immediate priority needs being addressed, we are looking at death rates and then targeting resources instead of getting ahead of it. She said we need more federal funding, but “we need far more than money, we need focus and commitment.”
When asked about whether or not the recent attention this issue has received due to the unusually high death rates will make the issue of racial disparities in health care a turning point, Congressperson Bass said that it could be, but she didn’t think we can say as of yet. Pointing to the recent coronavirus legislation, it makes some funds available for testing and health providers, but there needs to be specific targeting as well as more funding.
Dr. Blackstock was asked the same question and said it did present an opportunity, but it would require greater focus by HHS. These inequities existed for decades, and current attention is very significant, but if HHS fails to focus, it will otherwise be left to state and local governments to take the lead, and you can’t assume they will. Congressperson Bass also pointed out that the health disparities within minority communities were not just limited income groups but cuts across economic groups when examining recent information regarding maternal mortality rates.
On the heels of this interview, the CDC released a survey of eight Georgia hospitals that indicated that “data for hospitalized adult patients with laboratory-confirmed* COVID-19 who were admitted during March 2020. Among 305 hospitalized patients with COVID-19, 61.6% were aged <65 years, 50.5% were female, and 83.2% with known race/ethnicity were non-Hispanic black (black).”