- 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.
“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)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.