CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) is calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to investigate emerging reports of COVID-19 disproportionately impacting communities of color.
In a letter sent to HHS Secretary, Alex Azar, Scott cited “concerning reports…suggesting that COVID-19 has had a particularly harmful impact on communities of color.” Specifically, Scott noted that African Americans in Michigan comprise just 14% of the state’s population, but as of Monday, accounted for 33% of reported COVID-19 cases and 41% of COVID-19 related deaths. In an interview with MSNBC, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that 72% of all COVID-19 related deaths have been in black Chicagoans, despite the group accounting for only 30% of Chicago’s general population.
Due to what Scott calls “patchwork” demographic data, it is currently unclear what exactly, if any, the racial disparities are.
One theory is that underlying conditions that could lead to a more difficult battle with COVID-19, such as cardiovascular issues and diabetes, are more prevalent in certain populations.
Another theory is that the social determinants of health, such as access to healthcare and living conditions, could contribute to contracting, spreading, and treating the disease.
In a press conference on Tuesday, President Trump acknowledged the studies indicating that COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on African Americans, and said that his team is working to understand why.
Scott encouraged Azar to contribute to the investigation. He specifically requested that Azar “use the tools and authorities available to the Department to identify, monitor, and analyze potential disparities in the prevalence, along with the hospitalization and mortality rates, of this disease”
Scott went on to argue that understanding the disparities is crucial, because “as we develop a more robust understanding of how COVID-19 impacts different communities, as well as what underlying or associated factors may drive these differences, we can more effectively address the needs at hand and more aggressively combat this terrible disease.” Scott concluded by saying that a more in depth understanding of these factors would benefit all Americans.