Thomas Good / CC BY-SA

April 8, 2020; Black Star News

Elected officials of color have been responding quickly and explicitly to the information released this week that confirms that people of color are more likely to contract and to die from the coronavirus than whites. In Chicago, as we discussed yesterday, 68 percent of deaths from COVID-19 were Black people, who represent just 30 percent of the city’s population. The Chicago Tribune reports, “Black Chicagoans are dying at a rate nearly six times greater than white residents.”

As of Monday, 1,969 black Chicagoans, 891 white Chicagoans, 523 [Latinx] Chicagoans and 134 Asian Chicagoans had been diagnosed with COVID-19. About 25 percent of diagnosed cases did not have race or ethnicity recorded, and officials have warned about underreporting among Hispanic residents, suggesting the virus’s impact on minority communities could be even greater.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said those numbers are the result of longstanding inequities that must be dealt in every aspect of the city’s work.

But yesterday, New York Attorney General Letitia James took a well justified step further, suggesting that, given the facts, communities of color should get priority treatment for testing and treatment. We found her statement supremely rational and unusual in its acknowledgement of the need to establish communities of color as priorities in the immediate response to COVID-19. We also found it to be virtually ignored by the media, so we reproduce it here in full:

New York Attorney General Letitia James issued the following statement in response to data released today that shows that the majority of fatalities from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in New York City have been people of color:

“The COVID-19 data released today reveals that the virus has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. To say it is disturbing would be an understatement. Public health crises like this both reveal and exacerbate the depths of inequality in our society. I thank Governor Cuomo for his efforts to address these devastating disparities, but we must all continue to do more. We must expand treatment, rapid testing, and tracking with a sharp eye toward marginalized communities. We must also continue to increase hospital capacity, resources for safety net hospitals, and expand language access to ensure those communities hit hardest have the information they desperately need. Lastly, more is needed to protect our essential workers, many of whom are people of color. That means providing and requiring protective equipment for public transportation workers; grocery store, delivery, and warehouse workers; home health aides, nursing home workers, and others. It is imperative that we also think long term about tackling inequality head on and ensuring that universal healthcare access is a right, not a privilege. This is call to action. Let’s heed it.”

The preliminary data released today shows that of the fatalities in New York City, 34 percent of the people were Hispanic and 28 percent were black. Hispanics make up 29 percent of the city’s total population and black people make up 22 percent. By comparison, white people make up 32 percent of the population and account for 27 percent of the fatalities.

—Ruth McCambridge