Grijalva, McEachin Letter Urges HHS to Address Disparities in Coronavirus Outcomes for Environmental Justice Communities

Washington, D.C. - Today, Natural Resources Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urging the Department and its sub-agenices to address racial health disparities in COVID-19 outcomes for environmental justice communities, and to collect comprehensive  demographic data on the race and ethnicity of individuals tested and treated for the coronavirus.

The letter follows emerging research illustrating a disturbing link between air pollution and higher coronavirus mortality rates. Recently released data from health departments across the nation have demonstrated that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts communities of color.

“It’s clear that the legacy of systemic racism and environmental injustices has created a perfect storm for COVID-19 to wreak havoc on low-income individuals and communities of color,” said Grijalva. “We need transparent data on the link between environmental factors, health disparities, and COVID-19 deaths so that funds can be allocated to address these historic disparities and keep those disproportionately impacted safe. I’m proud to join Rep. McEachin in this effort and will continue fighting for environmental justice communities during this pandemic, the recovery that follows, and beyond.”

“The disparities evident in COVID-19 patient outcomes for communities of color and other environmental justice communities are not coincidental and should not be surprising. For decades, communities living on the frontlines of our climate crisis have suffered from the effects of toxic pollution, resulting in significant health disparities and exacerbating pre-existing conditions directly tied to COVID-19 outcomes,” said McEachin. But the statistics trickling in from states and municipalities are not enough – we must do more to support the environemental justice communities being ravaged by this pandemic, and that starts with making sure the experts have the data they need to provide informed recommendations to address this crisis.”

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, African-Americans make up less than a third of the county’s population, butaccount for 70 percent of coronavirus deaths; in Chicago, Illinois, African-Americans make up 30 percent of the city’s population, but account for 72 percent of coronavirus deaths; and in Louisiana, African-Americans make up 32 percent of the state’s population, but account for 70 percent of coronavirus deaths. In Richmond, Virginia, African-Americans make up 48 percent of the city’s population, but account for 62 percent of coronavirus diagnoses; tragically, all eight individuals who have died from the coronavirus in Richmond were African-American.

“While this data is disturbing and shocking, it should come as no surprise,” wrote the lawmakers. “For decades, environmental justice communities – including communities of color, low-income communities and Tribal and indigenous communities across the U.S. and U.S. territories – have suffered disproportionately from cumulative exposure to multiple pollutants, often without the necessary resources to respond to the impacts nor influence in the political process to promote equitable outcomes.”

“Despite the clear vulnerability of these communities, comprehensive demographic data on the race and ethnicity of the individuals tested or treated for COVID-19 does not exist,” the letter continued. “HHS must immediately establish and collect this comprehensive demographic data, and reallocate the federal resources necessary to address racial health disparities […] to better assist policymakers as they work to address disparities in health outcomes and inequalities in access to coronavirus testing and treatment, [and] help public health officials track and contain COVID-19 in areas with the highest risk of continued spread, including in areas with high levels of fine particulate matter.”

Full text of the letter can be viewed at https://bit.ly/35nLWrB.