Senators Introduce 'Much Needed' Bill to Address Coronavirus' Racial Disparities

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the pandemic has hit hardest Native Americans, Black and Latino communities across the country

senators Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin
Sens. Bob Menendez (left) and Ben Cardin. Photo: Getty Images (2)

The novel coronavirus pandemic has impacted people from racial minority groups at a higher rate than it has white people, and two senators now say they have a "much needed" plan to address the virus' disparities.

Sens. Bob Menendez, of New Jersey, and Maryland's Ben Cardin, both Democrats, introduced the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act to Congress on Wednesday, saying the bill — if passed into law — would improve contact tracing, testing and provide public awareness campaigns in minority communities around the country.

"COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color and the Trump administration’s response has failed to address the needs of these vulnerable populations,” Sen. Cardin, 76, said in a statement. “Health disparities for people of color is rooted in systemic racism, racial discrimination, and record-high levels of income inequality."

The act "will ensure that future public health response efforts, including testing, contact tracing, and potential vaccine distributions are tailored for diverse communities," Cardin added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the pandemic has hit hardest Native Americans, Black and Latino communities across the country.

The New York Times reported this month that people in the U.S. from Black and Latino communities are three times as likely to be infected by the coronavirus as white people. The data also showed people from Black and Latino communities have died at a rate two-times higher than whites.

The CDC attributes general health disparities to "inequities in living, working, health, and social conditions that have persisted across generations."

Menendez, 66, said Wednesday that those social and economic imbalances between racial groups in the U.S. — such as higher rates of chronic diseases in Black and brown communities, as well as lower access to health care and language barriers, among other issues — have led to the pandemic's disproportionate impact.

He argued such problems were compounded by President Donald Trump's choice on testing and contact tracing.

"Add to that the lack of testing, tracing and education efforts by the Trump Administration targeting communities of color during this pandemic and the impact is deadly," he said.

Florida Hospital
People wearing masks wait to enter the Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida on July 8, 2020. CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The bill has large support from other Democratic lawmakers, including co-sponsors on the bill such as Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar.

Warren said "structural racism continues to plague our country" and argued the pandemic's disparities are providing proof.

Booker added that "it is abundantly clear that this virus has not only exposed, but also exacerbated, the deep, structural racial inequalities that have been taking the lives and livelihoods of people of color and Black Americans in particular for centuries."

The senators' proposal was backed by a number of health groups focused on health disparities among racial groups, including the National Hispanic Medical Association and the National Alliance Against Disparities in Patient Health, among others.

At least 142,500 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus, according to a Times tracker, while more than 3.9 million people have been infected nationwide.

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