The Surprising Reason the CDC Is Changing How It Reports on Coronavirus
Current conversations about race have pushed the CDC in a new direction when it comes to COVID-19 reports.
You've likely read tons of articles about the factors that contribute to your coronavirus risk—your heart health, your blood pressure, your weight, etc. But one of the most disturbing sets of data that has emerged amid the coronavirus pandemic is just how much the virus has affected the Black community. According to The COVID Tracking Project, 13 percent of the U.S. population is Black, but Black people represent 24 percent of reported COVID-19 deaths "where race is known." And that last part is key. The truth is, that number could be even more bleak, but there is little information on race when it comes to coronavirus testing results. However, that's all about to change. After months of pressure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is finally changing its reporting guidelines to include demographic data, including race, ethnicity, age, and sex, beginning Aug. 1.
On Jun. 4, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—of which the CDC is a division—issued new instructions for labs reporting COVID-19 cases, requiring them to report demographic data alongside test results. The change in reporting guidelines comes at a time when racism is at the forefront of Americans' minds, following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, and the protests the case has incited.
According to The New York Times, various public health experts have criticized the CDC for failing to address the disproportionate effects of the coronavirus on communities of color. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker even wrote to the HHS in March about the CDC's failure to require labs to include demographic data in coronavirus testing reports.
"Without demographic data, policy makers and researchers will have no way to identify and address ongoing disparities and health inequities that risk accelerating the impact of the novel coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes," they wrote.
On Jun. 4, Robert Redfield, the director for the CDC, was questioned by House lawmakers during a health subcommittee hearing on the CDC's slow response to COVID-19 and its failure to anticipate how the coronavirus pandemic would affect Black communities.
"We're hearing a clamoring for equity and healing for positive permanent change to health and social disparities that exist in our nation," Redfield said during the hearing. "Unfortunately, this pandemic has also highlighted the shortcomings of our nation's public health system."
Black people in America historically have less access to healthcare, less access to education, and are more likely to be essential workers, which also puts them at an increased risk when it comes to COVID-19. They are on the frontlines, interfacing with people day in and day out in order to maintain an income.
"Black families, Black households, are less likely to be in single-unit, detached households and more likely to be in multiunit structures. It's also the case that black workers are more likely to live in multigenerational households. So if you happen to be an essential worker, you may be living with a parent, grandparent who, by virtue of being an older person, is at greater risk of exposure," Valerie Wilson, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, told NPR.
During the hearing, Redfield announced the new HHS reporting guidelines, apologizing for the "inadequacy of [the CDC's] response." According to RollCall, labs conducting coronavirus tests may receive fines if they don't follow these new requirements. And for more on how coronavirus has affected the Black community, check out I'm a Nurse Who Hasn't Been Sick in Years. Coronavirus Almost Killed Me.