April 30, 2020

Harris, Colleagues Call on Trump Administration to Fill Gaps in COVID-19 Demographic Data and Mobilize Resources to Affected Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Thursday joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and 7 of their colleagues in sending letters to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calling on the Administration to fill the gaps in COVID-19 demographic data and mobilize resources to the hardest hit communities. They were joined by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Edward J. Markey (D-MA.), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representatives Robin Kelly (D-IL), Karen Bass (D-CA), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), and Barbara Lee (D-CA).

Senators Harris and Warren and Representative Pressley, along with their colleagues Booker, Markey, Merkley, Kelly, Bass, and Lee, and more than 100 of their Senate and House colleagues, introduced legislation to require the federal government to collect and release demographic data – including race and ethnicity.

As a result of their and others' advocacy, the bill that passed Congress last week requires 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. This is a good first step towards understanding the impact of COVID-19, but the data HHS collects is still not comprehensive. The members are now calling on the CDC and the White House to rectify gaps in the implementation of this new law and use the data to target resources toward the communities that are most affected.

"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 members wrote. 

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 members 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.

The members wrote: "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." 

Read letter to Vice President Pence and the Task Force here.

Read letter to the CDC here.

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