More than a dozen U.S. senators are now pushing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to release its data on which Americans are getting access to covid-19 testing kits. The request, issued directly to CDC Director Robert Redfield on Tuesday, comes amid concurring reports that the virus is killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate.
Despite past assurances by President Trump that “anyone who wants a test can get a test,” some hospitals and laboratories reported shortages this week as the number of coronavirus cases began to explode. On Monday, the worst of it struck New York City where 731 people died in a single day. More than 4,000 have died in the city, which has born the brunt of the U.S. outbreak.
According to city health officials, black and Hispanic people in New York are dying at a disproportionate rate, and data amassed by the Washington Post shows black Americans dying at higher rates across the country. In Cook County, Illinois, for example, where only 23 percent of the population is black, around 70 percent of the people killed by covid-19 are black, according to official figures.
“We’ve known, literally forever, that diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and asthma are disproportionately afflicting the minority populations, particularly the African Americans,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. Those conditions, he said, are exacerbating problems for critical covid-19 patients.
“Unfortunately, when you look at the predisposing conditions that lead to a bad outcome with coronavirus—the things that get people into ICUs that require intubation and often lead to death, they are just those very comorbidities that are, unfortunately, disproportionately prevalent in the African American population,” Dr. Fauci said.
The CDC previously published data on the covid-19 rates across age groups, information seen as crucial early on. It contributed, for example, to knowledge that the virus would kill not only older patients, but younger ones as well. Data on the race and ethnicity of patients, however, is reportedly much harder to track.
Public health departments submit case reports to the CDC using a standardized form that asks for information such as sex, race, and ethnicity, as well as pre-existing medical conditions, a CDC official told Gizmodo on Wednesday. But that data is often preliminary and gets updated over time. Initial case reports are often missing important data, they said, including race and ethnicity. (Data on people’s ages is much easier to collect because dates of birth are used universally to ID patients.)
Senate Democrats say they want that data made public as soon as possible.
“As COVID-19 spreads into more American communities, government agencies and academic and industry researchers are working hard to understand the depth and breadth of the pandemic and its impact on the health and well-being of Americans,” the lawmakers wrote. “To this end, it is important to document if particular groups in the United States are at greater risk for the virus and why.”
A CDC official told Gizmodo the agency intends to respond to the letter as soon as possible.
“There is no question that there are serious racial disparities within our health care system,” Senator Ron Wyden added in an email to Gizmodo. “COVID-19 is sadly further shining a light on these failings. Full transparency on who is able to access tests and care is the only way to effectively right these wrongs and beat this pandemic. Researchers and public health officials need all of the data, and now.”
In addition to Wyden, the letter is signed by Senators Amy Klobuchar, Richard Blumenthal, Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker, among 10 other lawmakers.
“While the coronavirus pandemic is an economic and public health crisis in every corner of the country, I am outraged by reports of higher infection and death rates among minority communities,” Klobuchar said. “That’s why I joined my colleagues in urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to collect demographic data so we can identify and track the factors leading to health disparities and inequalities during this public health crisis and ensure vital resources are provided to those most in need.”
Pressed on why black communities were being hit the hardest, President Trump acknowledged on Tuesday that he didn’t have an answer, but said that more information would be coming by the end of the week.
“Well, we’re helping them a lot,” Trump said of black communities. “But what’s happening is we’re trying to find out why is it that it’s three and four times. Now, maybe that’s not going to be the final number. But why is it three or four times more so for the black community as opposed to other people? It doesn’t make sense, and I don’t like it. And we’re going to have statistics over the next, probably, two to three days.”
As Republicans focus on stemming the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis with a request for an additional $250 billion to aid small businesses, Democrats are negotiating for $100 billion to aid hospitals and other health facilities, as well as a 15-percent increase in food stamp benefits, according to the Washington Post.