Clarke said she is “deeply concerned” about the lack of information “because it means that officials are shooting in the dark when it comes to making important policy decisions like when do you lift the stay-at-home orders or when do you tell employers it’s safe for employees to come back to work.”
Clarke said she also is concerned about new hot spots emerging in some Southern states, such as Alabama, where the mayor of Montgomery has sounded the alarm in recent days that the city is running out of critical space in its hospitals.
Redfield’s letter was in response to one the Lawyers’ Committee sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, which was signed by several hundred doctors and public health experts. The group wrote that the information was necessary to ensure people of color were not being discriminated against in testing and treatment. The letter also said the data would help public health officials better respond to the needs of African Americans and other people of color.
Clarke said the committee is concerned about “reports from doctors and health professionals about bias in terms of care and treatment of black Americans, that they are being told at higher rates to stay at home, you don’t need to go to the hospital, just monitor your symptoms at home,” she said.
Redfield’s letter acknowledges the disproportionate impact of covid-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, on people of color: “Protecting them and other people at risk is a priority for the CDC, and to do so requires that we have strong data that describes the impact of COVID-19 on these populations.”
The CDC director’s letter notes that state health departments “work to get complete information on every case, including race/ethnicity, but during a large-scale pandemic, it is understandable that these health departments may not be able to gather all the case-specific information.” The letter said the CDC is also using other reporting systems, such as hospitals, to get information.
For instance, the letter refers to data on its website that provides “available race ethnicity data for approximately 30 percent of cases received through case-based reporting from public health departments.”
Clarke said she was frustrated the letter didn’t indicate a sense of urgency in the CDC’s effort to get better race and ethnicity data. The Lawyers’ Committee has also filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for details about how the agency is compiling information, including what instructions it has given to states about collecting and reporting data on race and ethnicity.
“We’re nearing 100,000 deaths, and we know that African Americans are overrepresented, making up about a quarter of all who have died across the country, and it just feels like we are without a plan,” Clarke said. “Data is critical to shaping a strategic and informed approach to help beat back the pandemic.”
A national study earlier this month found that black people make up a disproportionate share of the population in 22 percent of U.S. counties, and those localities account for more than half of coronavirus cases and nearly 60 percent of deaths. The study also found that socioeconomic factors such as employment status and access to health care were better predictors of infection and death rates than underlying health conditions.
The CDC has said that local health departments sometimes fail to include information about race and ethnicity on the standardized form it uses to collect data about coronavirus cases.