Tracking pandemic-related policy and social change with potentially lasting effects.
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Democratic lawmakers are calling out an apparent lack of racial data that they say is needed to monitor and address disparities in the national response to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter sent Friday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, both from Massachusetts, said comprehensive demographic data on people who are tested or treated for the virus that causes COVID-19 does not exist. Over the weekend, cities with large black and nonwhite Hispanic populations emerged as new hot spots for the spread of the virus.
“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 lawmakers wrote to Azar.
“This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities,” the letter warned.
Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois also signed the letter. It was shared exclusively with The Associated Press on Monday.
The lawmakers urged the HHS secretary to direct the department’s sub-agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, to work with municipalities, states and private labs to ensure that racial and ethnic data are being collected.
An HHS spokesperson did not confirm receipt of lawmakers’ letter but said the agency was “working to respond” to letters from Congress about COVID-19. A spokesperson for the CDC did not respond to the AP’s requests for comment on Monday.
“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.”
In a phone interview, Pressley said the race and ethnic data are needed to “directly influence how we marshal and target resources.”