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Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick falsely claims ‘African Americans who have not been vaccinated’ are driving covid surge

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick falsely blames unvaccinated African Americans for much of the state's surge in coronavirus cases. (Emil Lippe for The Washington Post)

When Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was asked about the surge in coronavirus cases during a Thursday night appearance on Fox News, the Republican said that “African Americans who have not been vaccinated” are “the biggest group in most states” contributing to the spike.

Laura Ingraham had asked Patrick to respond to criticism from Democrats that covid-19 cases and deaths were on the rise in Texas because of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s policies. The governor has resisted public health mandates aimed at mitigating the spread of the highly contagious delta variant. He announced Tuesday that he had tested positive for the virus despite being fully vaccinated.

Patrick acknowledged that “covid is spreading” and that infections are largely among people who have not received the vaccine.

“Democrats like to blame Republicans on that,” Patrick said. “Well, the biggest group in most states are African Americans who have not been vaccinated. The last time I checked, over 90 percent of them vote for Democrats in their major cities and major counties.”

Patrick’s comments, one video clip of which had been viewed more than 845,000 times on Twitter as of early Friday, drew immediate criticism, with some calling the lieutenant governor’s assertion unfounded.

While some GOP politicians toe the line between advocating for vaccines and protecting individual freedoms, legislative barriers to vaccination still exist. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

The latest data from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that the African American population there is not driving the increase in cases. Black residents in Texas accounted for 16.4 percent of the state’s cases and 10.2 percent of deaths as of Aug. 13. Black people make up about 13 percent of the state’s population, according to census data.

While vaccination rates are low among Black Texans, the highest coronavirus case rates are among Whites and Hispanics. Non-Hispanic White people, who make up about 41 percent of the state’s population, make up 34.9 percent of covid cases and 41.1 percent of deaths, according to the data as of August 13. Hispanics, who account for almost 40 percent of the Texas population, make up 35.8 percent of the state’s cases and 46.1 percent of deaths.

“Making a statement that casts blame on a racial or ethnic minority for the spread of disease is a well-known racist trope that predates most of us,” Jorge Caballero, a former instructor at the Stanford University School of Medicine who is now working as health data scientist, told The Washington Post. “People are already getting hurt by this virus, and it makes absolutely no sense for us to add insult to injury.”

On Thursday night, Caballero cast doubt on Patrick’s claims on Twitter, referencing U.S. Census Bureau data collected in July and August that suggests unvaccinated White Texans outnumber unvaccinated Black Texans roughly 3 to 1. Texas’s vaccination and case numbers are so stark, he said, “there’s just no room for misinterpretation.”

About 46 percent of Texans are fully vaccinated, according to The Washington Post’s tracking. The nationwide rate is about 51 percent.

The Texas Tribune reported this month that Black Texans hold the lowest vaccination rates among racial groups statewide, at 28 percent. For that population, the news outlet noted, a “lack of trust” in health care can be common based on “generations of disparities in the American system.”

Hispanics and White conservatives in rural areas also have low vaccine rates in Texas, according to the Tribune.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Patrick said his comments were misunderstood on Ingraham’s show. “Not surprisingly, Democrat social media trolls were up late misstating the facts and fanning the flames of their lies,” he said, adding: “Democrats continue to play politics with peoples’ lives, pandering to rather than serving certain constituencies.”

Coronavirus cases in the state have risen 17 percent in the last week, and deaths are up nearly 60 percent, according to The Post’s coronavirus tracker. Meanwhile, Abbott has sought to ban local mask mandates, and tensions continue to play out. At one Texas school, a superintendent detailed instances of parents verbally and physically assaulting educators over masks, including one parent pulling off a teacher’s face covering.

The day before Abbott announced his positive coronavirus diagnosis, videos posted online showed the governor delivering remarks and interacting with a maskless crowd at an indoor event. Earlier this month, the Texas Department of State Health Services requested five mortuary trailers in anticipation of a possible surge in deaths related to the state’s spike, driven by the delta variant.

“Whether we’re talking about a deep-red or deep-blue state, we really need all of our leaders to actually focus on the problem and to stop trying to score political points,” Caballero said. “Because we are our own worst enemy at the moment — and the delta variant is just having a field day with us.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: Vaccines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 12 and older get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant circulating now. You’re eligible for the shot if it has been at least two months since your initial vaccine or your last booster. An initial vaccine series for children under 5, meanwhile, became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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