Lead Story West Edition

Black leaders seek racial breakdown on coronavirus numbers

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — As the number of cases and deaths within the minority community continue to soar at an alarming rate, local leaders and a national lawyers group have called for breakdowns in coronavirus statistics along racial and ethnic lines so public officials can understand the full effect of the pandemic on black and other minority communities.

“This data is critical to the effective deployment of needed resources and the shaping of public education and communications, particularly in communities of color,” said Los Angeles City Council President Emeritus Herb J. Wesson. “It is also vital for the purpose of accountability.”

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and nearly 400 medical professionals issued a demand letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seeking action and answers and calling for the release of comprehensive daily racial and ethnic demographic data related to coronavirus testing, cases, and patient outcomes.  

“We are deeply concerned that African-American communities are being hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that racial bias may be impacting the access they receive to testing and health care,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Equal access to health care is a critical civil rights issue, and during this novel pandemic, the public deserves nothing less than full transparency from this administration and state public health officials. Comprehensive and publicly available racial data is a necessary weapon in the fight to confront COVID-19.”

On April 8, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, released limited data along racial and ethnic lines while warning that it was incomplete.

Thus far, in Los Angeles County, 301 blacks have tested positive for coronavirus. There have been 334 Asians, 807 Hispanics, 872 are White, 747 are “other” and 4,133 are still under investigation.

Gov. Gavin Newsom cautioned that the numbers along racial-ethnic lines are less than 40% of the data currently available.

He concluded that the data is too limited at this point to make conclusions.

“The data is limited on sample size,” Newsom said.

Of the state’s 6,306 cases that tested positive, Newsom said 6% are black, 14% are Asian, and 30% are Hispanic, which “tracks modestly” along the percentage of the state’s population.

Wesson and the national lawyers’ group are not alone in their call to action.

Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson and other civil rights leaders called out the county Health Department this week for opening coronavirus testing centers in the South Bay and other outlying areas while failing to open a testing site in Compton, even though statistics show that blacks and Hispanics are at the highest risk from coronavirus infection and are less likely to be tested then in affluent white areas of the county.

“Blacks and Hispanics in South L.A., Compton and other predominantly black and Hispanic areas in the county are at mortal risk from COVID-19 infection,” said Hutchinson, a columnist for The Wave. “Yet, the county has put testing of them at the bottom of the testing pecking order. This is yet another shameful example of biased medical neglect of poor black and Hispanic underserved communities in L.A. County. The county must open a testing center in Compton and open it now.”

Civil rights activist Najee Ali called for Newsom to, “immediately establish an executive order for a statewide collection of racial and ethnic data of COVID-19 victims.”

“The collection and releasing of racial and ethnic data need to be an important priority for public health officials,” said Ali, CEO of Project Islamic Hope. “Data can help L.A. County and the state of California advise the governor’s office and federal government on where to focus their attention and resources to help end the coronavirus.”

Ali said without the data, “African Americans are at a greater risk.”

The number of positive cases and deaths in Los Angeles County continues to rise.

During her daily briefing on April 8, Ferrer reported 29 additional deaths in Los Angeles County, bringing the total number to 198. The total number of positive cases is 7,530.

She said 17 of the latest deaths were people over the age of 65 and 16 of the victims over 65 had underlying health conditions. Seven of the people were between the ages of 41 and 65 and five of those had underlying health conditions.

There were 620 new confirmed cases and 1,170 new cases in the last 48 hours. Twelve of those cases are from the homeless population and 43 confirmed cases are in the jail facilities, affecting three inmates and 40 staff.

Ferrer, who reminded the public that the coronavirus is spread by people of “all ages” across the entire county, reported there were 324 confirmed cases in the health care industry including hospitals, outpatient facilities, and emergency medical services. She reported that two have died.

The coronavirus is infecting and killing black people in the U.S. at disproportionately high rates.

Reportedly, minority communities are at a higher risk of contracting the virus due to environmental, economic, political and health factors that include asthma, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the nature of COVID-19 and how it impacts those with pre-existing conditions is a reason why the virus is particularly more deadly for those in the African-American community. He confirmed that diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and asthma are disproportionately affecting the minority population, especially African Americans.

“Unfortunately, when you look at the predisposing conditions that lead to a bad outcome with the coronavirus, the things that get people to ICUs, that require intubation and often lead to death, they are just those comorbidities that are unfortunately disproportionately prevalent in the African-American population,” Fauci said. “We are very concerned about that, it’s very sad, there is nothing we can do about that right now except to try to give them the best possible care to avoid those complications.”

Cities with large black populations like New York, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and New Orleans have emerged as hot spots for the coronavirus. Figures released by Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services show 40% of those who have died from COVID-19 are black in a state where African Americans are just 14% of the population. 

In Louisiana, one of the states most devastated by the coronavirus, about 70% of the people who have died are African American, officials announced April 6, though only a third of the state’s population is black.

In the county around Milwaukee, where 27% of residents are black, nearly twice as many African-American residents tested positive for the virus as white people, figures released this week show.

And in Chicago, where African-American residents make up a little less than a third of the population, more than half of those found to have the virus are black. The death toll there is even more alarming: African-American residents make up 72% of those who have died of the virus in Chicago.

North Carolina and South Carolina have reported that, when compared with white residents, black residents account for a higher proportion of positive coronavirus tests than they represent in the general population.

Black people are overrepresented compared with white people among those infected in the Las Vegas area and among those who have tested positive for the virus in Connecticut.

In Minnesota, African-Americans have been infected with the coronavirus at rates roughly proportionate to their percentage of the state’s population.