93 Members warn that inconsistent and incomplete CDC data puts vulnerable populations at risk and worsens health outcomes for communities of color

Findings reveal people of color face largest percentage increase in excess deaths tied to COVID-19

November 25, 2020, Washington, D.C.—Today, Assistant Speaker-elect Katherine Clark (MA-5), Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-4) and 91 other House members wrote a letter to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield demanding that the agency release more robust data on disproportionate racial mortality rates from their recent report on excess deaths in 2020. The CDC report revealed significant percentage increases in excess deaths attributable to COVID-19 among people of color, but failed to disclose additional data on racial mortality rates from the excess deaths that were linked to other health-related causes such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

“People of color account for just under 40 percent of our population, but over 50 percent of all U.S. deaths from the coronavirus. Our country is undergoing a racial reckoning, and as the pandemic has highlighted, our health care system is not exempt from the systemic and persistent challenges facing our country,” said Congresswoman Clark. “To truly confront this injustice, we have to know just how pervasive these inequities are across our health care infrastructure. The CDC must work with Congress and provide us with the data necessary to develop targeted and effective interventions that will ensure the safety of all people.” 

“Communities of color continue to be disproportionately devastated by COVID-19. The top five most impacted zip codes in Illinois are in my district, and as many as one in 15 Chicagoans has COVID-19, with a vast majority being Black or Latino,” said Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García. “Despite these statistics in Illinois, most states and cities across the country do not provide a complete racial breakdown of coronavirus cases and fatalities. Comprehensive reporting—including racial and ethnic demographics—will help Congress give resources to the communities that need it most to fight the coronavirus. Unless we take immediate steps to address racial disparities in CDC data collection, many more deaths will ravage our most vulnerable communities.”

In the letter, the lawmakers wrote: “On October 20, 2020, the CDC published a study on excess deaths that occurred between late January and October to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on our country’s mortality rates. According to the study, two-thirds of the 300,000 excess deaths were attributed to the coronavirus while the rest were linked to other health-related causes such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Among the deaths associated with COVID-19, two distressing demographic trends emerged. The greatest percentage increase in excess deaths occurred among relatively young adults ages 25 to 44, and people of color faced the largest percentage increase in mortality rates.”

“Specifically, the report revealed that Latino and Hispanic people faced a 54 percent increase in excess deaths, a 37 percent increase for Asians, a 33 percent increase for Black people, and a 29 percent increase for Native Americans and other indigenous communities. In contrast, white people only experienced a 12 percent rise in excess deaths. As lawmakers, we recognize that these disproportionate mortality rates represent a failure to address structural racism that puts people of color at an increased risk of dying from the coronavirus.”

Additionally, the House members urged the CDC to:

  1. Collect, study, and disaggregate data on race by culture and ethnicity to help lawmakers and public health officials pinpoint specific problems and implement effective interventions;
  2. Provide Congress and the public with more information on how the CDC is utilizing its data on excess deaths to prevent the excess mortality rate from climbing any higher; and
  3. Outline any interventions that the CDC plans to implement in light of its recent report findings to protect communities of color.

A copy of the letter can be viewed here.