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Democrats blast CDC report on minorities and COVID-19

The Hill logo The Hill 5/27/2020 Rafael Bernal
Deborah Cox holding a microphone: Democrats blast CDC report on minorities and COVID-19 © Getty Images Democrats blast CDC report on minorities and COVID-19

The leaders of the House minority caucuses Wednesday slammed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the breadth of information provided in a report submitted to Congress on the effects of COVID-19 on minority communities.

Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), said the report signed by CDC Director Robert Redfield was "unacceptable and pitiful," adding she's "embarrassed for the director that that type of report was submitted to us."

The report in question consists of two-and-a-half pages made public on May 19 to meet a mandate included in the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act passed by Congress in April.

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That mandate, promoted by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), ordered the CDC and other health care agencies to collect and disaggregate racial and ethnic data on COVID-19 patients and coronavirus test subjects.

"When we have a Congressional mandate, and then they provide us with an insulting cut and paste hyperlink report - with antiquated hyperlinks at that - it is, it's infuriating," said Pressley in a call with reporters.

Slideshow by photo services

Although the CDC report provides links to other sources of coronavirus data, including demographic breakdowns, it does not provide a disaggregated table of data as requested by the lawmakers.

"They sent us a series of links, no analysis, no data, no value added, and I can't believe the director was really proud to sign his name to this report, because Congress and the American people definitely deserve to know the facts and have quality analysis," said Kelly in the call.

The CDC did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

The summary filing enraged the leaders of the Tri-Caucus - the coalition of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and Congressional Asian and Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) - who summoned reporters Wednesday to publicly pan the report.

They were joined by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), representing the Native American Caucus, which has allied with the Tri-Caucus to highlight how preexisting health disparities have led to disproportionate negative effects of the pandemic among communities of color.

"This pandemic has put a magnifying glass on the disparities that have existed in Indian country for generations," said Haaland, one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress.

"The need is urgent and we must be able to make solid data-driven decisions to protect the health and safety of our communities," she added.

CHC Chair Rep. JoaquĆ­n Castro (D-Texas) said the CDC's report would put lives at risk as the disaggregated information is quickly needed to better address the disparities in testing and treatment faced by communities of color.

"This level of callous indifference towards human life, particularly black, Asian, Latino and Native American lives is typical, unfortunately, for the Trump administration, but nevertheless unacceptable," said Castro.

CAPAC Chair Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said that the data also doesn't cover all ethnicities that have been disproportionately affected.

"With regard to hospitalizations due to COVID-19, well, at least the figures show what is happening to whites, blacks and Hispanics, but for everybody else, everybody including all AAPIs and Native Americans, are listed as other," said Chu.

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have the highest infection and mortality rates of any ethnic group in California, and suffer among the highest rates in Washington, Utah and Nevada, according to state and local statistics cited by Chu.

"Thankfully states like California, Washington and Utah disaggregate data on their own. Otherwise we would not know the dark effects on Pacific Islanders. But this disaggregation must be done on a national basis, so that we know who was affected," said Chu.

CBC Chair Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said that despite the state-by-state data available, the overall picture of how COVID-19 is affecting minority communities remains muddled.

"Depending on where you are in the country, it's either one group or the other, that is more disproportionately dying. We do not have a complete picture in any respect. The death rate that we know about so far is really only anecdotal. We don't know about the infection rate, we don't know about hospitalization rate.

"There are many unknowns, and all of these unknown factors, and the incredible mismanagement of this pandemic is the reason why you have 100,000 dead Americans in three months," said Bass.

The Tri-Caucus lawmakers, including members of the Oversight and Appropriations committees, said the CDC report could lead to congressional investigations and even put at risk CDC funding in the future.

"What we got from President Trump was a lazy project that links a handful of limited previously available - really outdated - data sets. All the data on those pages rely on states to self-report - some states do some states don't - what they're seeing. And we have no consistent way of tracking or identifying information," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

But the lawmakers said the CDC is still due to publish a follow-up report that could clear the air with the usually-apolitical federal agency.

"They do have another report that has to come out pretty quickly. So let's see how that goes," said Kelly.

"We just can't accept - I'm sorry - garbage work. Data informs policy and resources so they need to do a much much better job," she added.

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