That there is racial and ethnic disparity in care is not really news; however, these inequities are now blatantly evident during the Covid-19 pandemic. Seven physician organizations are demanding that the Health and Human Services agencies collect and publicly report data on testing, hospitalizations, and mortality by race and ethnicity during the pandemic.
“These data are essential to understanding the unique challenges and inequities facing communities of color and individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). Our physician members are wholly committed to the health and safety of all our patients during this crisis, including those who are historically marginalized, minoritized, and medically underserved. However, to date, federal Covid-19 data collection efforts do not contemplate race, ethnicity, or patients’ preferred spoken or written language,” the physicians wrote in their letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.
The letter, which is signed by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Medical Association, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the Association of American Indian Physicians, and the National Council of Asian Pacific Islander Physicians, acknowledges that the Covid-19 pandemic did not create these inequities of care, but “it has and will continue to severely exacerbate existing and alarming social inequities along racial and ethnic lines, e.g., in housing stability, in employment status, in healthcare access, and in food security.
They noted that these marginalized and underserved populations have “higher rates of chronic disease such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma,” than their non-Hispanic White counterparts.
Such comorbidities predispose them to a greater risk of death if they contract Covid-19. Add language barriers to the mix and miscommunication about the illness is exacerbated.
“Pandemics, such as Covid-19, highlight the inadequacies in our current health system, the lack of coordinated preparedness to fend off rampant disease, and the fragile state of the public health safety net system that supports people of color and persons with LEP with African-Americans accounting for a disproportionate number of deaths in several parts of the nation,” the physicians wrote, imploring the HHS secretary to “hasten all efforts to disaggregate and make publicly available the COVID-19 testing, hospitalization, and mortality data by race, ethnicity, and preferred spoken and written language of patients.”
During a Covid-19 briefing on April 7, President Donald J. Trump reacted to the news of the racial disparity that has come to light during the pandemic.
“We are doing everything in our power to address this challenge, and it’s a tremendous challenge,” Trump said, according to the Washington Post. “It’s terrible… 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 are going to have statistics over the next probably two to three days.”
However, at present, the data are unlikely, as only a handful of states publicly report these statistics.
But for those that do, the numbers of coronavirus deaths among African Americans, as the Washington Post reports, are stunning:
- Milwaukee County, Wisconsin — 73%
- Louisiana — 70%
- Washington, D.C. — 58%
- Chicago — 67%
- Illinois — 42%
- Michigan — 41%
- North Carolina — 38%
Meanwhile, the physician groups await HHS Secretary Azar’s response.