Congressional Leaders Discuss COVID’s Impact on Communities of Color

“COVID-19 is not a great equalizer,” organizers said. In fact, structural racism continues to perpetuate health and other disparities in communities of color during this global pandemic.

The BBC reported this week that early CDC data shows that in Chicago in early April, 72% of people who died of coronavirus were black, although only one-third of the city’s population is.

In Georgia, as of 17 April, white people accounted for 40% of Covid-19 cases where race was reported, although they represent 58% of the state.

Overall, reported NPR this week, CDC found that 33% of people who’ve been hospitalized with COVID-19 are African American, yet only 13% of the U.S. population is African American.

Further, among the 26 states reporting racial data, blacks account for 34% of COVID deaths, according to research from Johns Hopkins University.

Three women of color—Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Rep. Barbara Lee, and Rep. Judy Chu—discussed COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on communities of color during a town hall meeting hosted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center.

Aimee Alison, President of the She-The-People noted that Skylar Herbert, a five-year-old daughter of first responders in Michigan, died on Sunday of coronavirus complications in Detroit, and at five years old became the youngest American victim to die of this disease.

Congresswoman Chu said, “Communities of color are clearly some of the ones that are most impacted by the virus—but they are some of the people deemed most essential.”

She noted that they “disproportionately are represented in fields like health care, grocery stores and transportation, meaning they’re putting themselves at risk for our sake.”  She said, “These same communities are also some of the most vulnerable.”

Dreamers disproportionately work in health care, “but their future in this country unless they are extended is still uncertain.

“We need to make sure that we are supporting the most vulnerable of our workers,” she said.  The government needs to make sure that COVID-19 materials are translated into all languages so everyone can understand it.

“Testing is the key getting us to the other side of this crisis,” she said.  “If we don’t know who’s infected, we cannot stop the spread of the virus.  But the US is facing a severe shortage of testing nationwide and, as a result, our cases of COVID-19 in our communities are being undercounted.”

She wants to include in the next aid package the ability to “ramp up our testing capacity on a massive scale.”

Reports, she said, noted that wealthy individuals are able to access testing while vulnerable populations have difficulty getting tests unless they are hospitalized.

She noted that, with adequate testing, there will be less need to quarantine.  But she noted even here there are problems for communities of color, who often lack separate rooms to be able to quarantine at home and protect their families.

“We need to ensure that we have ways that people can recover in our lowest-income minority communities,” she said.

Representative Ayanna Pressley pressed the CDC to release data on racial and ethnic data on COVID-19 which showed tremendous disparities.

“History has shown us that our communities of color disproportionately bear the brunt of all of our nation’s biggest crises in large part because our government has consistently and historically left so many of its people behind,” she said.

She added, “This pandemic has exposed these painful truths, but it didn’t create it.”

Representative Pressley continued, noting that black and brown communities are facing disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infection and death “Because our society has failed to ensure that all of its people have adequate access to health care, decent jobs, decent wages, clean air, clean water, safe and stable homes.

“Just imagine how different our response would have been if we already had universal health care,” she said.  “These are the consequences, of the generations of intentional policies, policies that abandoned our most vulnerable in times of crisis.”

On a more hopeful note, she said, “I have no doubt that we will weather this storm.  We will get through this pandemic.  And we will do it together.”  But she added that “simply making it through is not good enough.  This moment does demand more.  There is no going back to normal.”

She said, “It’s that normal that was insufficient to begin with.”

Representative Barbara Lee said that she is working on legislation that would direct $25 billion—mobile units, community health centers, and rapid response testing—into communities of color that have been most impacted by COVID-19.

She noted that they are also trying to get data requirements into all of these bills.

“We are trying to make sure that we have rapid response testing that’s accurate, that’s focused and targeted on where the disparities are the greatest—that’s in black and brown communities,” Representative Lee said, who represents Oakland and Berkeley in Congress.  “We also want to make sure that we provide funding for community-based organizations—faith-based organizations—to provide them health education.”

She said there is so much misinformation out there that they are trying to get resources in order to educate the public on how to protect themselves.

Representative Pressley added that the corporate bail out is a huge part of the problem.

“I’m going to continue to fight for more cash assistance,” she said.  She noted that no one believes “anyone can live off of $1200 for ten weeks.  That’s not enough.  Just to speak to the impact of this corporate bailout, we need a people’s bailout.”

She said, “There are some projections that said if we had not bailed out those big businesses and those corporations we could have given everyone $13,000 – not just a one-time infusion of $1200.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith Olsen

    USC and the health department released preliminary study results that found that roughly 4.1% of the county’s adult population has antibodies to the coronavirus, estimating that between 221,000 adults to 442,000 adults in the county have had the infection.
    This new estimate is 28 to 55 times higher than the 7,994 confirmed cases of Covid-19 [coronavirus illness] reported to the county in early April. The number of coronavirus-related deaths in the county has now surpassed 600, according to the Department of Public Health. The data, if correct, would mean that the county’s fatality rate is lower than originally thought.

    Though the county had reported roughly 1,000 cases in early April, the Stanford researchers estimate the actual number was between 48,000 and 81,000, or 50 to 85 times greater.

    Based on their results, the Stanford researchers estimated the mortality rate in Santa Clara County to be between 0.12% and 0.2%. By comparison, the average death rate of the seasonal flu is 0.1%.

      1. David Greenwald

        I do think it is important to understand that this article I wrote focused on the press conference from yesterday or town hall and that was on the economic impact and some of the proposals the three congresswomen are proposing to resolve that. The discussion here should focus on that. Readers should notice that there is no mention at all of Trump. His name actually rarely came up yesterday at all. So I think for the purposes of this article – the discussion should be narrowly focused. I say this in hopes that people will not be frustrated by potential future pulling of off-topic posts.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Readers should notice that there is no mention at all of Trump.

          Except in your follow-up post… also, I composed my post before you moved the goalposts… but moving forward, now I know where the goalposts are set…

        2. Mark West

          “this article I wrote focused on…the economic impact and some of the proposals the three congresswomen are proposing to resolve that.”

          “So I think for the purposes of this article – the discussion should be narrowly focused.”

          If that was your focus then, in my opinion, you did a sub-par job of meeting that goal. I have read the article three times and the discussion of the economic impacts (and proposals) that you see as your focus, is really only represented in the final few sentences. What I see as the true emphasis of your writing is the disproportionate impact this epidemic is having on people of color.  That is an incredibly important issue that deserves attention, so I am glad that you wrote about it, even if that was not your focus. As to your admonition regarding the discussion…how can we know what is your intended topic for discussion if it is not obvious from your writing?

        3. Alan Miller

          how can we know what is your intended topic for discussion if it is not obvious from your writing?

          Journalism 101:  Place your subject and your main point in the first paragraph of your article.  Did DG miss school that day?

        4. David Greenwald

          In any case my attempt to steer the conversation away from partisan bickering drew people to debate moderation and journalism.  LOL.  Can’t win.

      2. Bill Marshall

        I see several points… every indication that exposure/infection greatly exceeds what has been reported by testing (as in “no s&%t, Sherlock”)… we have little firm clues what the ‘true’ numbers are (we don’t know what we don’t know)… if the mortality numbers are ‘firm’, as to covid, the mortality rate is far below previous assertions/speculations.

        Additional points might be (my thoughts), we should be prudent, and cautious, as covid does seem to spread easier than our typical flus, but not panic, as the projected mortality rate is very similar to that caused by normal flus.  Cries out for more testing, more analysis. And, continuing prudence and caution.

        %-ages are nominator/divisor calculations… if the nominator is pretty accurate, and divisor is grossly understated, the mortality rates have been grossly overstated… simple math, simple logic.

        1. Keith Olsen

          This V article is showing the percentages of black people being treated and dying in certain communities.  I think citing the overall COVID death rate as pointed out by the studies from USC and Stanford as being more in line with the common flu is worth mentioning.  Were blacks in these communities also dying at higher rates with the flu than the rest of the state?

          Either way the USC and Stanford studies are some good news for a change.  We could all use some good news don’t you think?

        2. Bill Marshall

          Oh… yet another new rule… one cannot post in reply to a question posed by/to another… please argue that part be made part of the VG rules… not like it hasn’t happened before… we need to get on top of the modern, equivalent, Smith-Corona virus!

          Certainly (?) you have NEVER done that (!)… yeah, right…

  2. John Hobbs

    I see no good news in the data gathered by USC and LA DPH. All they have confirmed is that testing is the only way to know the real infection and mortality rates, but we still don’t have enough tests for meaningful data with which to proceed. We are still playing catch-up three months into this pandemic. The virus meantime mutates making hope for some sort of conferred immunity less likely with each new mutation. We don’t need more sunshine blown up our skirts.

    1. Bill Marshall

      I agree with Keith (we do not know how many folk have been exposed/infected), but I also agree with John H…

      All they have confirmed is that testing is the only way to know the real infection and mortality rates, but we still don’t have enough tests for meaningful data with which to proceed. We are still playing catch-up three months into this pandemic. The virus meantime mutates making hope for some sort of conferred immunity less likely with each new mutation.

      We also lack the info as to possible/actual mutations, and what that would/could mean… we need testing at a far greater scale than has been done to date… pretty much only folk who are clearly presenting symptoms are currently being tested… or, the dead.

    2. David Greenwald

      The studies at USC weren’t peer reviewed and my friend has questions about the methods. That doesn’t mean they are wrong, but should be viewed with a grain of salt until there can be more study.

      1. Keith Olsen

        A grain of salt?  We’ve known from the start that there were many more people that had this virus that weren’t being reported because only the most severe cases were getting tested.   Now we have a few studies that we can turn to that confirms this.   These were two studies conducted apart from each other that came up with close to the same results from two prestigious institutions.   It’s good news, we should welcome it.

        1. David Greenwald

          You can take a look at this:

          The USC study, again is not peer reviewed and suffers from similar problems. You’re citing a study – you should be aware of its shortcomings. Your reasoning is basically confirmation bias – you’re agreeing with it because it confirms your existing beliefs. That’s not science. If you’re going to do that, might as well ignore the study and state your opinion. You may not be wrong.

        2. Keith Olsen

          Remember what you wrote here every time you point out a study from some liberal think tank that’s not peer reviewed or cite the NY times or Washington Post in your articles.  You should be aware of their shortcomings and that you may only agree with because them it confirms your existing beliefs.  So are we to take it that from now on we can count on you only citing peer reviewed studies or stats?

          1. David Greenwald

            You have no answer to the flaws cited in the link? I have already said it could well be correct. I actually don’t think the study changes much even if accurate.

        3. Bill Marshall


          David… from your cite…


          I’ve been following your blog for a while and checked in today to see if there was a thread on last week’s big-splash Stanford antibody study (the one with the shocking headline that they got 50 positive results in a “random” sample of 3330 antibody tests, suggesting that nearly 2% of the population has been infected “under the radar”). I didn’t see anything, so I thought I’d ask if you’d consider opening a discussion

          …. Simply put, I see two potentially fatal flaws with the study (full disclosure: I [Rushton] haven’t read the entire paper — a thousand apologies if I’m jumping the gun —

          Yeah, sure sounds like scholarly ‘peer review’… not published, and an internet search of Rushton show no creds…  OK, that sure trumps USC and Stanford published works…

          1. David Greenwald

            I was being a bit sarcastic but the guy is a statistics professor at Columbia. The first problem that he points out is basically that the false positive rate for the testing is higher than the supposed confidence interval which would seem even to this layman who hasn’t done statistical modeling in over a decade to be a fatal flaw with the study.

  3. Bill Marshall

    BTW… if one looks at the other major causes of morbidity/mortality (other than flu) there is diabetes and heart disease… which, I believe I have read, is ‘discriminating’ against ‘communities of color’.   Yet, nothing much is being done about that…

    1. Bill Marshall

      Not likely… and I suspect you know that… just look at white ‘fundamentalist’ churches in the Sac Region… who defied social distancing, assembly guidelines/orders… the latter have created small “hot-spots”…

      More likely, there are population density issues, and possible genetic issues, driving the disparity…

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