After weeks and weeks of growing outcry from some doctors, public health advocates, the media, elected officials, and communities of color across the nation, On Tuesday April 8, 2020 President Donald Trump and the COVID-19 Task Force officially acknowledged that a disproportionate number of African Americans are being infected by and dying as a result of COVID-19. Though a seemingly impenetrable wall of silence and dismissal on this issue, and the widespread systematic failure to disclose racial and ethnic demographic data was essentially sustained across much of the county as positive cases and deaths continued to spike exponentially, these and other relevant concerns like the need for broader testing of both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals finally took center stage yesterday as a growing number of media outlets have increasingly blanketed the airways, newspapers, and the internet with coverage on these topics over the last 24-72 hours.
President Trump on Tuesday acknowledged African Americans are disproportionately getting sick and dying of COVID-19, vowing to release data detailing the extent of the problem in the coming days. “We’re doing everything in our power to address this challenge. It’s a tremendous challenge. It’s terrible,” he said during a White House briefing with reporters. He said his administration would “provide support” to African Americans but didn’t offer further details.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said African Americans are also more likely to have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension obesity and asthma, increasing their risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. “It’s very sad. It’s nothing we can do about it right now except to try and give them the best possible care to avoid those complications,” Fauci said.
The Trump administration and state health departments have been under pressure from advocates to release a racial breakdown of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Trump said his administration would release some “very, very nasty” numbers over the next few days. Some states have released data, but it’s still largely unknown how widely COVID-19 has hit communities of color.
Yesterday’s developments may help to spark a long overdue emphasis on this dimension of our nations COVID 19 response, and future preparedness and response efforts during public health emergencies on the local, state and federal level. For example on Monday April 6, 2020 Politico reported that:
Jeff Lancashire, a spokesperson for the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics said the CDC will release demographic data on Covid-19 deaths, “but not for a while.”
Some of the gaps can be attributed to testing labs that are submitting reports with fields left blank or missing information. Effectively transmitting complete demographic data isn’t a new problem, said Janet Hamilton, head of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. But public health experts are “now in a situation where we need the information instantaneously,” Hamilton added.”
The public health reporting piece has been deprioritized and we’re now seeing the effects of public health reporting consistently deprioritized year after year,” Hamilton said. “We don’t have a first-century data superhighway because public health has been so underfunded for so many years.”
Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez got a call on March 28 from Dr. Kathleen Reeves, a senior associate dean at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine. “She was like, ‘Maria, your district is in trouble,’” said Quiñones-Sánchez, who represents a largely Latino community. “She said they were getting an increase of Latinos testing positive for coronavirus and they were very concerned.” Reeves said her concerns were based on “totally anecdotal” information. “Some of our practitioners thought they were seeing more Hispanic patients who were positive than other patients,” she said
Maryland state legislator Nick Mosby, who represents West Baltimore, feels as though he’s “banging his head against the wall.” For two weeks, Mosby has pleaded with the state’s public health department to release data he believes it has gathered on the race and ethnicity of those being tested for the novel virus. “We need the data right now,” Mosby said. “There’s no way that you are reporting on age and gender, but in the same breath, you can’t report out on race.”
On Wednesday April 8, 2020 Governor Roy Cooper and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen also weighed in re: the disparities seen in North Carolina during a COVID 19 press briefing:
On Wednesday March 25, 2020 The Stimulus shared a brief entitled “Demographics & Information Sharing Matters” with the NC DHHS and DPH. As a result the following response was quickly provided: “Thank you so much. Great piece. We are committed to being as transparent as possible and will be sharing more demographic data on our dashboard.” As promised the NC DHHS is currently providing Racial & Ethnic Demographics as well as other key data and information on their COVID 19 Dashboard. North Carolina is presently one of only a handful of states across the nation that is currently sharing racial and ethnic demographics with the public. Thank you NC DHHS and DPH!