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Black Americans Face Higher COVID-19 Death Rates in Some Areas

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  • In several cities and states around the country, black Americans are being hit harder by the coronavirus. 
  • In Louisiana and Chicago, black people account for 70% of the total deaths, despite being roughly a third of the population. 
  • Most states, however, are not releasing information about what racial groups are being impacted by the virus. 
  • The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and members of Congress have both sent their own letters encouraging the government to release this information. They believe that knowing what communities are being impacted the most is crucial in fighting the pandemic.

Disproportionate Rates Throughout Country

As states and cities across the country reveal that African Americans are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, many are calling for data on race and the pandemic to be released nationwide. 

Louisiana has a little under 15,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, which has led to 512 deaths. Of those who died, 70% were black. This number is particularly astonishing because, according to census data, black citizens make up roughly one-third of the state’s population.

During a press conference, Governor John Bel Edwards said that this death rate is “disturbing.”

“So that deserves more attention and we’re going to have to dig into that and see what we can do to slow that trend down,” Edwards added. 

Louisiana is far from alone. In Chicago, African Americans also comprise close to one-third of the population, but they also account for 70% of COVID-19-related deaths.

As of Tuesday morning, the city has lost 118 people to the virus, with a 4.4 average death rate per 100,000 people. Eighty-one of those deaths have been black residents, who comparatively have a 10.3 death rate. This comes close to ten times the death rate any other racial population in the city is experiencing.

Source: City of Chicago Public Health

“Those numbers take your breath away,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters. “They really do. This is a call-to-action moment for all of us.”

In Milwaukee, where African Americans make up 27% of the population, the disparity is also massive. Not only are they leading confirmed cases, but also make up 35 of the state’s 49 total deaths.

There are several factors that could be contributing to this. African Americans are less likely to have health insurance and more likely to have pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure and asthma. On top of this, black Americans are also systematically under treated and more likely to be denied treatment or testing. 

Medical issues aside, black Americans are also not working from home as frequently. According to the Economic Policy Institute, while 30% of white Americans and 37% of Asian Americans can work from home, only 20% of African Americans can. Hispanic and Latino workers have the least access to telecommuting at 16%. Those going out to work in the field, as opposed to saying home, are immediately at higher risk of exposing themselves to and contracting the coronavirus. 

Not All Cities and States Release Info

Black Americans dying from the coronavirus at a higher rate is a trend across numerous states and cities, but we still do not know how widespread the issue is. The majority of localities have not released information about what racial groups are the the most impacted by COVID-19. According to NBC News, only nine full states have done so.

This lack of reporting could stem from a number of reasons. First, states are not required to do so. Second, collecting all this data could be difficult, and even if that data is collected, some might fear misinformation.

Still, many health experts believe this information is essential in combating the virus. There are big efforts to urge states and the federal government to collect and share this information with the public so that the imbalance can be addressed. 

On Monday the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, along with nearly 400 medical professionals, sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services and related organizations to demand that these statistics be released to the public.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its subagencies are charged with ensuring that racial disparities do not persist in the administration of healthcare services, even in a pandemic,” they wrote. 

In their letter, they cited that black Americans have higher rates of underlying conditions and cannot work from home on a large scale. They also added that  black Americans face barriers in testing, and that they have also been disproportionately impacted in the recent surge of unemployment applications. 

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law claims the data is needed so public health officials can determine if marginalized communities are struggling when it comes to testing and treatment.

“The absence of this critical data on a national scale will severely hamper the ability to develop robust public health interventions responsive to the needs of communities of color,” the letter added. “This data is also needed to help fully understand COVID-19, and to help stem ongoing community spread of this novel and dangerous virus.”

Letter from Congress

Congress has also demanded action on this front. At the end of March, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), teamed up with Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Robin Kelly (D-IL) to write a letter to DHS Secretary Alex Azar. Together, they encouraged the DHS and the CDC to monitor racial disparities and how the pandemic is impacted by them.

“Although COVID-19 does not discriminate along racial or ethnic lines, existing racial disparities and inequities in health outcomes and health care access may mean that the nation’s response to preventing and mitigating its harms will not be felt equally in every community,” they wrote. 

“This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities,” the letter continued. “It will also hamper the efforts of public health officials to track and contain the novel coronavirus in the areas that are at the highest risk of continued spread.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Politico) (Washington Post)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban

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  • President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 
  • Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
  • The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions. 

Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.

That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.

Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”

It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead. 

Biden To Block Trump’s Order

Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.  In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect. 

It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.

Source: Whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions

Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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