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Illinois Democrats pushing CDC to collect racial data about COVID-19 deaths

“These numbers shed light on grave racial disparities in communities across the United States,” Illinois Democrats said in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

President Donald Trump and Medicare chief Seema Verma speak at a White House briefing April 7.
President Donald Trump and Medicare chief Seema Verma were asked about racial disparity in COVID-19 deaths at a briefing April 7.
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With deaths in Chicago and Illinois throwing a national spotlight on the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affecting black communities, Illinois Democrats in Congress pushed the Trump administration on Tuesday to require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to publicly report demographic data.

President Donald Trump promised at a briefing April 7 to have some national race-related COVID-19 statistics in two or three days, but the numbers have yet to materialize.

In Chicago, African-American people are about 30% of the population yet account for 64% of deaths. Statewide, blacks account for 15% of the population with 43% of deaths Similar lopsided death and infection numbers hold for blacks in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and Louisiana.

“These numbers shed light on grave racial disparities in communities across the United States that have been present for decades,” the Illinois Democrats said in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

“We urge the Department of Health and Human Services to take action to address the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color — particularly black communities — starting with publicly reporting demographic data of cases and deaths on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.”

Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and the 13 House Democrats from the state signed the letter.

“We are glad that the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago have been reporting the demographic characteristics of COVID-19 patients,” the letter said.

“Unfortunately, many other state and local governments are not — and most importantly, the federal government is not publishing these breakdowns.

“…While the CDC publishes information stratifying COVID-19 cases by age and gender, it does not include racial background and underlying health conditions. Providing health care providers and the general public with racial and demographic data is essential in assessing the scope of the virus in the black population and other minority communities, and to informing public health departments on how best to respond to the unique challenges facing communities of color.”

The Democrats noted some of the underlying reasons for the inordinate coronavirus infection and death rates among blacks: high numbers of blacks with underlying health issues such as asthma, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes; holding “frontline” jobs, making it impossible to shelter at home and a lack of health insurance.

Trump has refused to open up health insurance markets created by the Affordable Care Act — known as Obamacare — to allow people to enroll. Instead, Trump and Republican Senate leaders proposed a narrower plan for the uninsured, for the federal government to pay only for costs stemming from COVID-19 treatment.

At a White House briefing April 7, Trump was asked if he would require the CDC, or any public or private entity doing testing “to collect that data on the race of the people being tested and the race of the people being treated and the outcomes.”

Trump passed the question to Medicare chief Seema Verma. She said Medicare data will be studied for the past month and “Going forward, we now have a code for coronavirus, so we can actually stratify by demographic information so we can look at race as a factor. We can also look at what the underlying health issues are as well. So we’ll be providing that data very shortly, but we will be doing that analysis.”

Trump said at the briefing, “We’re going to have statistics over the next, probably, two to three days. OK?”

Medicare data alone may not cover everyone who was tested.

The Illinois Democrats concluded in their letter, “We need to ensure that our state and local hospitals and health departments are reporting important demographic data to the CDC regarding COVID-19 cases and deaths, and that the CDC is publishing this information publicly.

“These vital statistics can then help the federal government, as well as state and local governments and public health departments, to develop plans to protect our most vulnerable populations,” the letter said.