COVID-19 is Disproportionately Impacting the Black Community; What Are Our South Carolina Officials Going to Do About it?

Jaime Harrison

There is a clear racial disparity in how the coronavirus is impacting South Carolina communities.

Throughout the United States and right here in Palmetto State, African-Americans are being disproportionately harmed by COVID-19. While African-Americans make up 27 percent of the state’s population, 57 percent of reported deaths and 36 percent of confirmed cases have been African-American, according to our state’s health department.

Black Americans are more likely to have pre-existing conditions, many of which place them at higher risks to suffer more serious impacts from the coronavirus. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and other respiratory issues occur at higher rates in Black communities than Caucasian ones. The prevalence of asthma and lung diseases is especially a cause for concern, as COVID-19 inflicts serious harm on respiratory systems.

Making this even worse, African-Americans in South Carolina do not have nearly enough access to affordable healthcare, when and where they need it. Four full-service rural hospitals have closed in the past eight years and almost 13 percent of non-elderly African-Americans are uninsured.

It is a privilege to be able to socially distance during this pandemic, one that many in the Black community cannot afford. African-Americans are overrepresented in the population of hardworking folks who can’t just fire up a laptop to work from home. I’m talking about the essential bus drivers, mail carriers, and grocery store clerks that are keeping South Carolina functional at a time like this. In fact, less than one in five Black workers in this country are able to telework from home.

This makes it difficult to participate in social distancing and increases the chances Black Americans come into contact with people infected by the virus. Black folks also tend to hold jobs that don’t offer benefits like paid sick leave or health insurance. That means even if our brothers and sisters get sick or become exposed to the coronavirus, they cannot take time off to recover or receive proper treatment.

Instead of fighting the pandemic and disparities that exist in our healthcare system, our leaders have continued to play political games with the lives of South Carolinians.

Elected officials like Lindsey Graham have missed important pandemic-related hearings to appear on cable news and fundraise for his re-election. He has consistently voted against outbreak preparedness funds, and he opposes initiatives that protect all Americans from health threats.

The federal government years ago established what’s called the “Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP),” the only federal funding source that directly finances healthcare system preparedness on a regional basis. It supports regional collaboration between hospitals, so healthcare professionals have adequate resources and supplies like masks and other personal protective equipment that are needed during “medical surge events,” like this pandemic. Time and time again, when given the opportunity to protect it, Lindsey has turned his back on the HPP. He has voted at least four times to cut funding from the program, including a vote in 2014 to slash $122 million from the HPP. With votes like that, the program’s funding has dried up in recent years, leaving hospitals more exposed to supply shortages like the ones we are seeing every day on the news today.

In 2017, Senator Graham introduced his dangerous Graham-Cassidy legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The bill would have eliminated entirely the funding for CDC’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, which supports early detection and response to health threats. Just last year, Graham promised that he would work to repeal the ACA entirely if he had enough votes.

As November approaches, we need to elect leaders who will fight for us, especially in these trying times. Our current leadership is failing to take meaningful action against the coronavirus, let alone address the disparities that were already plaguing our healthcare system.

Jaime Harrison, a native of Orangeburg, is a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate.

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