U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the highest-ranking Latino in Congress, and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) led a group of Senate colleagues in introducing the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.
The legislation would require targeted testing, contract tracing, public awareness campaigns, and outreach efforts directed at racial and ethnic minority communities and other populations that have been made vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 has had a particularly devastating impact on racial minorities across America,” Menendez said. “The fact is black and brown Americans suffer higher rates of chronic disease, inequitable access to health care, fewer economic opportunities, and in some cases real language barriers. Add to that the lack of testing, tracing, and education efforts by the Trump Administration targeting communities of color during this pandemic and the impact is deadly. The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act would create a much-needed plan of action specifically designed to address this issue at the federal, state, and local levels.”
“Health disparities for people of color are rooted in systemic racism, racial discrimination, and record-high levels of income inequality,” said Cardin. ” The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act will ensure that future public health response efforts, including testing, contact tracing, and potential vaccine distributions are tailored for diverse communities. Our bill will help racial and ethnic minorities in the ongoing fight against this pandemic, and will help inform future reform efforts to reverse long-standing systemic racism in medical research, testing and delivery of care.”
As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread across the nation, it has revealed and exacerbated longstanding health disparities.
Initial data from the CDC shows that the U.S.’s racial and ethnic minorities experience higher rates of COVID-19, worse health outcomes from the disease, and barriers to accessing and affording treatment
According to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at approximately 2.5 times the rate of white people nationwide. American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic, and Asian American communities are also facing disproportionate rates of COVID-19.
In New Jersey, 21.3 percent of COVID-19 deaths involve African Americans, although they make up just 14 percent of the state’s population while Hispanics account for 25.7 percent of COVID-19 cases despite making up 20.6 percent of the state’s population.
The act would require the Trump Administration to develop and implement a Federal Health Disparities Action Plan to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other vulnerable populations.
HHS would develop the plan in coordination with other Offices of Minority Health, the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, and community-based organizations.
It would require states to revise testing and contact tracing plans to address racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other vulnerable populations experiencing health disparities related to COVID-19.
The act would also authorize the development of targeted public awareness campaigns about COVID-19 symptoms, testing, and treatment directed at these groups and ensure that federally funded contact-tracing efforts are tailored to the racial and ethnic diversity of local communities.
The bill is supported by Families USA, the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), the National Alliance against Disparities in Patient Health (NADPH), the Friends of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH), and UnidosUS.
Other cosponsors of the legislation include Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
“The coronavirus pandemic is a public health and economic crisis without precedent in our lifetimes, and it is abundantly clear that this virus has not only exposed, but also exacerbated, the deep, structural racial inequalities that have been taking the lives and livelihoods of people of color and Black Americans in particular for centuries,” said Booker. “Our bill seeks to create a much-needed national strategy for addressing the deadly disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 and any future public health crises by directing resources that are accessible and responsive to the communities that need them the most.”
Earlier this year, Sen. Menendez called on the Trump Administration to do more to help minority communities that are seeing a disproportionately higher impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, and also urged pharmaceutical companies to include patients from diverse backgrounds in clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine.