Democratic lawmakers introduced new legislation on Tuesday aimed at pushing health officials to collect and report racial data related to COVID-19. The introduction of the bill comes as cities and states across the nation report concerning racial disparities in virus-related deaths.
“We are facing a crisis unlike anything in our lifetimes—and it is hitting communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income communities and Indian Country especially hard,” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), one of the sponsors of the Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure on COVID-19 Act, said in a statement shared with ESSENCE. “Because of government-sponsored discrimination and systemic racism, communities of color are on the front lines of this pandemic. To effectively slow the spread of the virus and ensure our response is robust and equitable, we need comprehensive national data on who is getting infected, who is getting treatment and who is dying. That is how we can truly contain COVID-19 and save lives.”
The measure would make it mandatory for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to disclose racial data on testing, treatment and fatality rates, as well as provide a summary of the final statistics once the outbreak comes to an end. The more than 80 lawmakers who cosponsored the bill are also calling on the CDC to produce daily updates on its website that break down collected data by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, as well as other demographic information.
“Black people and other people of color are being infected and dying from COVID-19 at alarming rates, Sen. Kamala Harris, another cosponsor of the bill, said. “Without the collection and publication of data at the national level, we cannot fully understand the scope of the issue and take appropriate action to help the most hard-hit communities. We need to right the historical wrongs that have led to deep health disparities for generations. This is a necessary step.”
Funding to the tune of $50 million would be authorized through this bill to ensure that the CDC and other public health agencies could improve on their data collection infrastructure and, according to the press release, “create an inter-agency commission to make recommendations on improving data collection and transparency and responding equitably to this crisis.”
James E.K. Hildreth, M.D., the president of Meharry Medical College and an international infectious disease expert, said in a statement to ESSENCE that he was happy to aid Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chairwoman Karen Bass; Congresswoman Robin Kelly, who is the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust; and other members of the CBC in shaping the legislation introduced on Tuesday.
“Minority and underserved communities suffer and die disproportionately from these diseases,” Hildreth said. “Armed with this essential data, leaders across the country can begin to make decisions that will protect all our residents—those of every color, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.”
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