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Condemns Reopening Economy As “Reckless”

Washington, DC (April 24, 2020) Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law issued a new demand letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), calling for increased transparency and immediate action in response to COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Black communities and other communities of color.  This letter follows the release of preliminary data by HHS. In the past week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released limited data for confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. It has yet to provide any critical race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 tests. The release of this new data follows actions taken by the Lawyers’ Committee on April 6th when, joined by close to 400 medical professionals, the organization called on HHS to release race/ethnicity data for COVID tests, cases and outcomes.     

As of April 22, the CDC reports that there are 828,441 reported COVID-19 cases. However, the CDC only has demographic data (age, race or ethnicity) for 619,695 of these cases (74.4%). For this subset of cases with demographic data, the CDC has race data for only 35.9% of cases.  For CDC cases with race data, 33.5% of patients are Black even though only 13% of the U.S. population is Black. Additionally, the race and ethnic demographic data provided by the CDC is not disaggregated by state, making it impossible to determine whether there are states with significant racial disparities in confirmed cases.

On April 21, the CDC reported limited race and ethnic demographic data for certain jurisdictions reporting more than 100 COVID-19 deaths further underscoring the racial disparities revealed in the data for confirmed cases.  For example, in Louisiana Blacks account for 50.8% of COVID-19 deaths even though they represent 32.3% of the state’s population.  And in Michigan, Blacks account for 31% of COVID-19 deaths even though they represent 13.8 percent of the state’s population.   

“African American communities and families are being ravaged by COVID and the federal government’s response has been woefully delayed and insufficient.  Full and comprehensive racial data, including for tests is a critical weapon in the fight against this pandemic. It is indefensible at this critical stage that the federal government neither has complete racial data nor a plan for addressing the massive deficits,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  

Clarke continued: “Aggressive calls to reopen the economy pose a direct threat to Black lives, particularly in those communities where we are seeing African Americans disproportionately impacted. It would be reckless to reopen the economy without providing adequate protection for Black workers and other vulnerable communities that may be without equitable access to testing, care and treatment. States should not put profits over people and must take action that will help save lives.”

In this new letter, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law demands that HHS:

  • Promptly release all race and ethnic demographic data for COVID-19 cases disaggregated by state. 
  • Promptly release all existing data related to COVID-19 tests for all states disaggregated by race and ethnicity. Without this data, officials and lawmakers are not properly equipped to develop targeted and tailored public health responses and strategies to address barriers to testing and the unique needs and concerns of communities of color.  
  • Going forward, prioritize ongoing release of comprehensive, complete and robust race and ethnicity data collection for all tests, cases and outcomes, in close collaboration with all HHS sub-agencies to address significant gaps in reporting.  
  • Provide concrete protocols and assistance to state public health officials to mandate the consistent collection and reporting of this data. 
  • Develop concrete action plans to address racial disparities in Black communities and other communities of color by targeting these communities to provide free access to widespread testing and healthcare; ensuring essential workers have personal protective equipment; and ensuring hospitals in these communities are adequately resourced and have the necessary equipment to care for patients. 

To read the letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II,  click here.

Earlier this week, the Lawyers’ Committee held a press call to address the release of CDC and state data.

To receive a recording of the call or for more information, contact [email protected].

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