The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act addresses disparities affecting communities of color during the COVID-19 pandemic

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) joined Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) in introducing the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act to address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on communities of color. The bill would require targeted testing, contract tracing, public awareness campaigns and outreach efforts specifically directed at racial and ethnic minority communities and other populations that are vulnerable to COVID-19.

“The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color, yet this Administration has failed to provide complete, consistent, and transparent statistics on coronavirus tests, cases, hospitalizations, complications, and deaths by race and ethnicity, limiting public health officials’ ability to effectively address this crisis,” Klobuchar said. “This legislation is an important step forward to address this crisis and support racial and ethnic minority communities particularly impacted by the pandemic.”

“Systemic racism is a public health issue,” Smith said. “For far too long Black and brown people have been telling us that systemic racism isn’t just limiting their opportunities, it’s killing them. And the coronavirus pandemic is only exacerbating this injustice. This bill is an important step towards eliminating the pandemic’s disproportionate  impact on communities of color. And we need to keep working to make transformative change to reverse systems that perpetuate racism.”

According to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Nationwide, African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at approximately 2.5 times the rate of white people. American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic, and Asian American communities are also facing disproportionate rates of COVID-19.

In Minnesota, 24 percent of COVID-19 cases and 10 percent of deaths involve African Americans, although they make up just 6 percent of the state’s population. Hispanics account for 44 percent of COVID-19 cases despite making up 5 percent of the state’s population.

The bill is supported by Families USA, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the National Alliance against Disparities in Patient Health, the Friends of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Council of Urban Indian Health and UnidosUS.

“Families USA thanks Senator Menendez and Senator Cardin for their leadership at such a critical time in our country and for championing health equity. The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act of 2020 centers the needs of historically marginalized communities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” said Amber A. Hewitt, Ph.D., Director of Health Equity, Families USA. “This bill addresses the need for complete and accurate data collection on COVID-19 health outcomes, to better inform and tailor testing and contact tracing efforts, and eventually equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, which will be dependent upon culturally and linguistically appropriate messaging. This pandemic has not only exacerbated disparities in health and health care outcomes, but also health inequities, which are unjust and avoidable.”

“Latino communities continue to have high rates of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19. NHMA strongly supports the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act because it will support targeted strategies to reduce health disparities for COVID-19 and future public health emergencies,” said Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, FACP, President & CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

“As the impact of COVID-19 health disparities has shown all too well, whether from a public health or an economic perspective, the effect of health disparities is a National crisis,” said Alex J. Carlisle, Ph.D.; Founder, Chair, & CEO, National Alliance against Disparities in Patient Health (NADPH). “By allocating resources to the communities most severely impacted by COVID-19, and the agencies and stakeholders with recognized and demonstrated commitments to serving these communities, the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act of 2020 provides the National leadership and response needed to help our Nation overcome this crisis.” 

The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act would:

  • Require the Trump Administration to develop an action plan to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other vulnerable populations.
  • 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.
  • Authorize the development of targeted public awareness campaigns about COVID-19 symptoms, testing, and treatment directed at racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other socially vulnerable populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
  • Ensure that federally funded contact-tracing efforts are tailored to the racial and ethnic diversity of local communities.  

Joining Klobuchar, Smith, Menendez and Cardin as co-sponsors of the legislation are Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Mark R. Warner (D-VA).

Earlier this year, Klobuchar, Smith, and 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. Klobuchar and Menendez also urged pharmaceutical companies to include patients from diverse backgrounds in clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine.

In May, Klobuchar and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) led a group of 14 colleagues on a letter to Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal urging him to release system-wide demographic data in the BOP’s public reporting of the number of incarcerated people and staff impacted by COVID-19—including data on the age, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, pregnancy status, sexual orientation, and disability of all incarcerated people and BOP staff who have been tested for, contracted, recovered from, and died from coronavirus, as well as for those who have been transferred to home confinement or granted compassionate release.

Klobuchar also pressed President Trump this spring to make comprehensive demographic data related to the coronavirus pandemic available.

In March, Sen. Smith successfully secured free coronavirus testing for all Americans. In April, a second important "antibody" test to help determine which Americans have been infected and recovered also became free under her testing provision.

In May, Smith introduced bipartisan legislation to boost health resources for urban Indian health organizations as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forces many to grapple with financial hardship and even close operations.  

The text of the bill can be downloaded here and a one pager here.

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