More government action in combating racial disparities with COVID-19 testing is needed, those participating in a livestream panel said Thursday.

Hosted by Texas-based research and advocacy charity Children at Risk, the discussion illuminated health risks and barriers to testing present in minority communities. Among the participants was Angelica Delgado-Rendon, an assistant professor of health promotion and community health services at Texas A&M University.

The nine panelists shared personal and data-based observations of the coronavirus’ effects on people of color, and spoke of how organizations such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have reported disparities among racial groups. The CDC website notes that a recent student of coronavirus patients in New York City identified African American and Hispanic/Latino coronavirus death rates as considerably higher compared to the death rate of whites and Asians.

“I really want to join this fight and cause by saying that we have to, in Texas, address the race and ethnicity data that is clear, explicit and concise, and can help us mobilize in our communities all over Texas,” said opening speaker Jerry Hawkins, executive director of Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation.

Hawkins expressed concern that COVID-19 testing cites are not adequately placed in areas where minority communities have easy access, citing a recent article published by NPR. He also noted that the pandemic affects minority groups, in that many frontline and essential workers are African American and Hispanic.

“Communities of color are more likely to be the grocery store worker, the EMT; folks who are working while everyone else has the opportunity to work at home,” Hawkins said. “It’s important that we fight for protective equipment for communities of color, for essential workers; [fight for] better wages, hazard pay, and for childcare.”

Delgado-Rendon spoke about how minority groups do not always receive the proper information on the coronavirus needed to stay healthy.

“Texans are receiving mixed messages from many sources, leading some to think that the epidemic is over, and to underestimate the risks,” she said. “To begin with, it would be helpful if the government published daily updates on key indicators in a simple way everyone can understand, in English and Spanish at minimum, provided in raw numbers and broken down by race and ethnicity. It would be great if testing efforts and interventions were targeted to the utmost vulnerable communities... [there is] maybe misunderstanding in the Hispanic community, where we tend to be more underinsured, and so some people may feel like they can’t show up to receive a test if they dont have insurance. Or, they may be afraid of the medical cost, or that an employer may retaliate if they are found to be positive.”

Dr. Jean Raphael, an associate professor of pediatrics for the Baylor College of Medicine, addressed minority communities’ pre-existing conditions that agitate the coronavirus’ effects, and other physical and environmental factors that affect people of color.

“Just looking at access to healthcare when we look at communities of color, they tend to have lower insurance rates,” Raphael said. “So if they’re having more mild symptoms such as cough, fever; or even more moderate symptoms; and are concerned about coronavirus conditions, they have a harder time getting to health care... also people with asthma, diabetes, hypertension, will have more significant complications from coronavirus, even death. And if you look at all those conditions, you have higher prevalence and likelihood in under served communities of color.... when we look at data and information on communities of color, they tend to live in more densely packed areas, and that is significant, because it means it’s harder to social distance. Communities of color also live in multi generational households, so again, it’s harder to social distance in those areas.”

President & CEO for Children at Risk, Bob Sanborn, echoed Hawkins’ sentiment, noting that while people of all color may be experiencing the pandemic together, the pandemic does not effect all groups equally, and in fact inequity has been accentuated.

“I’m proud to give specific policy ideas to our state leaders,” Sanborn said. “... Our leaders need to lead in this issue. We need to treat this as a teachable moment for our public to understand racial inequity in what’s happening. We need our leaders to cross party lines, to dismiss cultural wars, to focus on healing. We need things for our leaders to restore in our state, like an office of racial equity. We need for our leaders, our governor, to establish a task force to work around issues of racial inequity.”

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