Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with nine of his colleagues in the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, is calling on the Trump administration to fill the gaps in COVID-19 demographic data and mobilize resources to the hardest-hit communities—including people of color, tribal nations, LGBTQ+ individuals, and low-income households.
In a pair of letters to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the lawmakers pressed the White House to rectify gaps in the implementation of a new law—which passed Congress last week and requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue monthly reports on the data it collects related to race, ethnicity, sex, age, and geographic location of those who have been tested, hospitalized, or died from COVID-19.
“We know that the disparities in our society did not begin with the COVID-19 pandemic, but this crisis has exposed the deep inequality in the health and economic security of our communities. It is therefore essential to use all available data to identify its disproportionate impact on marginalized communities, to let this data guide our response, and to mobilize resources to the communities that are most in need,” the lawmakers wrote to CDC Director Robert Redfield.
In their letter to CDC, the members urged the agency to work with state, tribal, and local public health systems to modernize and improve surveillance and increase our nation’s capacity to collect complete, timely, and accurate data on each patient. They also asked to include disability status, socioeconomic status, and primary language in its public reporting.
The lawmakers also raised alarm about the lack of dedicated CDC funding and resources to tribal governments and organizations to build public health infrastructure in Indian Country. They urged the CDC to work directly with the Indian Health Service (IHS) to better coordinate disease surveillance strategies in tribal and urban Indian communities, while continuing to ensure that tribal data sovereignty is respected and preserved. They also urged close collaboration with tribal governments, Tribal Epidemiology Centers, and the CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Tribal Advisory Committee.
In their letter to Vice President Pence and the Task Force, they urged for mobilizing a whole-of-government response to address the needs of affected communities, including working with trusted messengers to develop public information campaigns and prioritizing marginalized communities when distributing federal resources, including personal protective equipment (PPE), testing material, funding, and staffing. They also urged involving IHS in these efforts and meaningfully engaging with Native communities and tribal leaders, among other steps.
“We also know that data alone is not enough. As we learn more about the inequities in how different communities are experiencing this pandemic, the federal government has a responsibility to direct support, information, and resources to the communities that are being hit the hardest,” the lawmakers wrote to Vice President Mike Pence.
Across America, communities of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, women, and other currently and historically marginalized communities do not have equal access to health care and experience worse health outcomes. The coronavirus crisis is highlighting these existing health disparities in Oregon, as state and county public health authority data show that the Latino community has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Latinos make up 13 percent of Oregon’s population, and 31 percent of the state’s coronavirus patients.
The letters follow a previous call from Senator Merkley for the Trump administration to monitor and address dangerous health inequities that are disproportionately causing coronavirus-related deaths in minority communities in Oregon and across the country.
Senator Merkley was joined in sending the letters by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), as well as Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Karen Bass (D-CA.), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), and Barbara Lee (D-CA).