screengrab via CNN
JAMIL RAGLAND

On Sunday, May 17, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper why so many Americans have died from COVID-19.

Part of Secretary Azar’s answer is especially important to note:

“Unfortunately the American population is very diverse, and is a population with significant unhealthy comorbidities that do make many individuals in our communities, in particular African American, minority communities, particularly at risk here because of significant underlying disease, health disparities, and disease comorbidities that is an unfortunate legacy in our healthcare system that we certainly do need to address.”

When the secretary of HHS says on national television that Black Americans are “particularly at risk,” the problem is not that government or everyday Americans don’t know what’s going on in black communities. When Secretary Azar says it’s a result of “an unfortunate legacy in our healthcare system,” it demonstrates that the problem isn’t that government is unaware of what caused these disparities.

The problem is that political leadership chooses every day not to invest in the safety of black people in the United States. Choices are made to not rectify the persistent discrimination and policies which have left so many Black Americans with comorbidities. These choices typically kill black Americans over a longer period of time, but still earlier than most other groups in the United States. COVID-19 has compounded those choices, and we are now witnessing the ravages of racism at warp speed.

New choices need to be made right now to protect the lives of black Americans, but there has been very little shared by state and federal authorities about plans to save black lives. For example, there are no mentions of race or ethnicity at all in the CDC guidelines recently published regarding businesses and employers. As that guidance has not been forthcoming, I have some questions I’d like to ask.

President Trump and Secretary Azar – what are the actionable, specific and measurable policies that the federal government will enact to protect black lives during the coronavirus outbreak? What will be the mechanism for holding authorities responsible if (and more likely, when) the mortality rate for black Americans continues to be higher than that of other groups?

When black Americans become ill from COVID-19, what specific steps will be taken to ensure that black Americans receive access to life-saving care? There are already stories from Georgia, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Detroit of black Americans being turned away from hospitals, and dying. How will the federal government address this?

Gov. Ned Lamont, and other state officials – what are the specific steps that the state government is taking to protect Black lives during the pandemic? In the “Reopen Connecticut” guidelines shared by your administration, it states that “those in high-risk groups (comorbidities) and over the age of 65 should continue to stay home and stay safe.”

This advice applies to black Nutmeggers. How will the state help to support black citizens who must stay home, per your own guidelines? What access to financial and emotional support will be made available to black citizens?

If the state is unwilling or unable to support black citizens in following its guidelines to stay at home, then what steps will the state be taking to specifically protect black citizens when they return to work?

Non-black Connecticut citizens and non-black Americans at large: can you help us to secure these answers? I need you to understand that these are not idle questions ginned up to meet a deadline. This is not about reducing the euphemistic “disparities in health outcomes.” This is about preventing death.

You already know what our nation’s leadership knows, that black Americans are going to bear the brunt of this disease – that’s according to a CBS Poll released May 14. The survey suggested 60% of Americans believe black Americans will be impacted the most.

Are you comfortable with simply knowing that, or will you help us to do something about it?

Black people are dying, and many more will die as reopening pushes forward if government policy does not change. We need specific details and actionable steps on how the state and federal governments are going to protect black citizens. The problem is acknowledged, and the causes are known. Now do something about it so that my friends and family don’t die.

Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.

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