AUSTIN — State elected officials are pressing Gov. Greg Abbott to form an emergency task force to examine racial disparities amid the coronavirus pandemic, as several Texas cities report the disease is disproportionately affecting black residents.
“I certainly hope that he will be very receptive to this issue,” said Rep. Shawn Thierry, a Houston Democrat behind the request. “By looking at the group that is the most affected and eradicating [the virus] in our communities is helping everyone.”
In Dallas County cases where race is known, black residents have been hospitalized at a higher rate than white residents, though they make up less of the population, according to public data.
But large gaps in data collection regarding patients’ race and ethnicity, at both the county and state level, mean the full picture is still unclear.
In 115 hospitalizations in Dallas County — out of 510 reported — the patient’s race was not known. Some 29% of people hospitalized with the disease have been Hispanic, 24% black and 19% white, according to Dallas County data released Tuesday.
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment. While the state does collect demographic data on people who test positive for COVID-19 from local officials, the information is not mandated and not always complete, Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt said recently.
“If we get this under control better, we will be able to expect that our folks in the field who are providing the reporting and filling in those fields are going to have enough time in the day to get it done,” he said during a news conference last week.
Still, pressure is mounting on the state and federal governments to gather and release demographic data in real-time, while also using it to guide resources.
An analysis by the Associated Press found that of coronavirus victims whose demographic data was publicly shared by officials, nearly 3,300 of the nation’s 13,000 deaths thus far — about 42% — were black. African Americans account for roughly 21% of the total population in the areas covered by the analysis, which included Mississippi, Louisiana, Michigan, Alabama, Illinois and North Carolina.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday he had a “very productive conversation” with the Congressional Black Caucus about health disparities related to the virus.
“What we have to do is focus on getting the resources where the vulnerable are, to be able to get testing done, to be able to get the appropriate identification, where proper and where appropriate, to isolate and contact trace if we can, but also to help mitigate in a community that is suffering and suffering much more disproportionately,” he said.
Though Texas is making public demographic data related to coronavirus deaths, it is often delayed. While Texas reported over 315 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, the state has completed investigations on just 65 of them. Those show that COVID-19 has killed 29 white people, 18 Latinos, 11 black people and one Asian, according to DSHS. The remaining six are unknown, as are all the victims’ home counties.
In Dallas County, 42 people have died from COVID-19. Of those, roughly 40% of those were white and 29% were black. White and black residents make up roughly 29% and 24% of the county population, respectively, according to Dallas County data. Hispanic residents accounted for 26% of the deaths and make up 41% of the county population.
The virus is highlighting known vulnerabilities in Texas, which has the largest population of uninsured people because the state has not expanded Medicaid, said U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson during a call organized by the Texas Democratic Party on Tuesday.
“African Americans are employed in jobs that don’t have health insurance or health coverage and have the highest rates of heart disease, cardiovascular disease, strokes, and diabetes,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat on the House Public Health Committee. “This comes from not having regular sources of care across the board. This is because of Jim Crow, we could even go back to times of segregation when there weren’t hospitals that African Americans could go to. Those disparities are known.”
Washington D.C. Bureau Chief Todd J. Gillman contributed to this report.