State Watch

Cuomo vows to investigate racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths: ‘Why do the poorest people always pay the highest price?’

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Wednesday vowed to ramp up coronavirus testing in minority communities and investigate the racial disparities in deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

“Why are more African Americans and Latinos affected?” Cuomo asked at his daily press briefing Wednesday.

He noted that black New Yorkers comprise 28 percent of deaths in New York City and 18 percent of deaths in New York state, despite being 22 percent and 9 percent of the population, respectively. 

Hispanics, meanwhile, are 29 percent of the population in New York City and 11 percent of the population statewide, but represent 34 percent and 14 percent of deaths, respectively.

“We’re seeing this around the country,” Cuomo added, noting that other areas have worse disparities than New York’s. “Comorbidity, I understand that, but I think there’s something more to it. You know, it always seems that the poorest people pay the highest price. Why is that? Whatever the situation is.”

Cuomo compared the disparities to the particular devastation Hurricane Katrina wrought on African Americans in 2005.

“The people standing on those rooftops were not rich white people,” he said. “Let’s figure it out. Let’s do the work. Let’s do the research. Let’s learn from these moment and let’s learn these lessons and let’s do it now.”

Those racial disparities have appeared across the country where the data is available, prompting lawmakers and health professionals to call for racial data on coronavirus cases and deaths nationwide. In Louisiana, African Americans account for 70 percent of coronavirus deaths despite making up 32 percent of the population. In Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County, they account for half the cases and 80 percent of the deaths.

Cuomo vowed to step up testing in majority-nonwhite communities, adding that there should also be more research into whether the number of Latino and African American public workers “who don’t have a choice but to go out every day and drive the train” were putting those communities at particular risk.

Experts have pointed to underlying conditions that are more likely to affect minority communities and lack of access to medical care has factors which account for the differences.

“Let’s learn from that, and let’s do it now,” Cuomo added, saying he would ask Havidan Rodrigeuz, president of the University of Albany SUNY, to head an effort to collect more comprehensive data on the spread of the virus in minority communities.

Tags Andrew Cuomo Coronavirus racial disparity

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