Lawyer and doctor coalition: Release COVID-19 data across U.S. by race

By: - April 6, 2020 4:13 pm

Detroit COVID-19 testing site | City of Detroit photo

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and about 400 doctors from across the country publicly demanded on Monday that federal, state and local governments address racial disparities in COVID-19 treatment and testing by publicly releasing demographic data associated with the virus. 

“African-American communities face a higher degree of risk exposure. Private COVID-19 testing is cost prohibitive for many of them making it very difficult for low-income communities and people of color to get tested,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Affordable Care Act are clear: These civil rights laws prohibit health care providers from administering services in a discriminatory manner.”

The Lawyers’ Committee has also issued letters to state public health departments to begin making data publicly available. The call to action is driven by a collective concern that the lack of transparency by federal and state officials is preventing public health officials from understanding the full impact of this pandemic of Black communities and other communities of color, hampering the ability to develop robust interventions, and potentially enabling further community spread.

Reports suggest alarmingly high and disproportionate numbers of positive cases and fatalities among people of color in cities like Detroit, New Orleans, Milwaukee and parts of New York City.  

As of Monday, Michigan reported more than 17,221 COVID-19 cases and 727 deaths. In Detroit, 5,023 cases have been confirmed, with 193 deaths. Detroit is 80% African American. 

Michigan’s Black population has made up 41% of those who have died as a result of COVID-19. Black people made up 33% of all cases, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Whites are 23% of cases and 28% of deaths. People of multiple races are 2% of cases and 1% of deaths. Asian Americans are 1% of all cases and deaths. Latinos are 1% of cases and less than 1% of deaths. American Indians or Alaska Natives are less than 1% of cases and 0% of deaths.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on Monday said that he agrees with the coalition’s effort and applauded Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and DHHS chief deputy director, for making Michigan’s data available by race. 

“It’s clear that what COVID-19 is doing is exacerbating the racial disparity in health in this country,” Duggan said.

Illinois, one of the few other states that releases some data, also showed disparate rates of confirmed coronavirus cases among African Americans. Clarke said that African Americans to date have made up 29% of all Illinois COVID-19 cases and 42% of the deaths.

“Despite significant advances in health care and health technology over the last five decades, racialized health disparities have been both persistent and profound. Black Americans have carried the highest burden of chronic diseases, shortest life expectancies, and highest maternal and infant mortality rates,” said Dr. Uche Blackstock, Advancing Health Equity founder and CEO. 

“As we have already seen, the COVID19 pandemic has and will undoubtedly amplify racialized health inequities, further devastating Black and other marginalized communities. Collecting racial and ethnic demographic data on testing, cases, and health outcomes will be imperative to mitigating the effects of the COVID19 pandemic on our already vulnerable populations and will ensure healthcare resources are allocated equitably.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.