Rep. Ayanna Pressley is leading a call by the Congressional Black Caucus demanding the next coronavirus relief package require federal authorities to collect and report race-specific data.
Pressley told WBUR that she and Rep. Robin Kelly, of Illinois, made the ask in a letter to Democratic leadership Tuesday.
Pressley, along with Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, previously called on the Department of Health and Human Services “to monitor and address racial disparities." That request was ignored.
"What we need is a standard federal mandate when it comes to the collection of racial data," Pressley said. "And to be clear, no one is adding an onerous level of data collection. We’re already collecting age and gender."
Benjamin N. Haynes, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the agency within HHS that handles data collection — said in a statement that case reports filed by local public health departments often omit important data, including race and ethnicity.
"Supplementary surveillance systems are being stood up to better capture ethnicity and race data, as well as other key demographic or clinical information," Haynes said in the statement. "Special studies and enhanced surveillance platforms will continue to improve visibility on this; for instance, this week CDC will publish an MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) report on COVID-19 hospitalizations that includes data on race and ethnicity."
Pressley and other lawmakers and advocates said that the need for race-specific data to be collected and disseminated at a federal level is crucial because the limited data available show black Americans have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
For example, data from Chicago show that while black residents make up about 30% of the city's population, they account for 72% of deaths from COVID-19 complications and 52% of positive tests for the coronavirus.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which joined 400 medical professionals in demanding that HHS track and report racial data daily, said the information is needed better serve those communities.
"Do we need to redirect health care workers? Do we need to redirect personal protective equipment or ventilators to certain hospitals versus others based on the needs of that community?" Clarke said in a call with reporters. "And so this data can really help us direct those resources to the communities that need them most."