WASHINGTON, D.C.—Republican Whip and Ranking Member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Steve Scalise (R-La.) opened the Select Subcommittee’s briefing on racial health disparities in the coronavirus crisis by addressing the “insidious, evil enemy” of COVID-19 that we face “as a united country.”

Whip Scalise discussed ways that Congress could help stem COVID mortality in minority communities, both in the short and long term, such as promoting best practices in nursing homes, accelerating health initiatives such as the ‘Advancing American Kidney Health’ initiative and 21st Century CURES 2.0, and reopening the economy in order to improve minority health outcomes.

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Remarks as prepared for delivery: 

“Mr. Chairman, as we start this hearing, our country is facing two very different crises. We are facing the shutdown of our country and economy with the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are also dealing with the anger stemming from the senseless killing of George Floyd, as well as the protests followed by the violent rioting that is burning down some of our cities.

“As we confront all of these challenges, this subcommittee should be focused on following the facts and working on solutions.

“The COVID pandemic struck suddenly. It has taken over 100,000 lives and caused a lockdown resulting in 40 million job losses. Sadly, that is not the whole story. COVID has hit minority communities disproportionately. COVID has hit lower-income Americans hard. COVID has targeted the elderly. COVID has taken a cruel toll on Americans with underlying health conditions like diabetes and cancer.

“We face an insidious, evil enemy.

“But we face this enemy as a united country. We united to social distance and flatten the curve to help others. And we unite in our grief.

“In my district, which includes parts of New Orleans, we have lost over 1,300 of our friends and neighbors. Over 400 nursing home residents have passed. Our largest hospital system, Ochsner, just reported this week that 77% of hospitalized COVID patients at Ochsner were black.

“More than half of the fatalities have been minorities. The names and faces of COVID’s victims include Ellis Marsalis, legendary jazz pianist, educator, and patriarch of the Marsalis family. Through his fame, his death draws attention to the impact on the musicians and artists, particularly black musicians that represent so much of the culture and vitality of our city.

“Coronavirus tried to take Trichelle McDaniel from us. She spent six weeks on a ventilator. When she emerged from a New Orleans hospital after 72 days – she held her infant son for the first time. He was delivered when Trichelle first went into the hospital and was immediately separated for his safety. Her doctor calls Trichelle ‘a symbol of hope during a time of defeat after defeat.’

“Nationally, COVID-19 deaths are nearly two times greater in minority communities than for white Americans. The Navajo Nation, the country’s largest reservation now has a higher death rate than any U.S. state except for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. In New Mexico, Native Americans are dying at rates 19 times that of all other populations combined.

“If we are going to do something about the disproportionate impact, we have to ask and try to answer why it is happening. We know this is not an American problem. All over the globe, minorities and lower-income people have suffered disproportionally.

“In America, we do know that nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been places where COVID has spread and where too many people have died, including minorities. We can take immediate steps to reduce the suffering by applying hard-won lessons. Last week this subcommittee heard the Mayor of Jacksonville lay out specific reasons why Florida has seen dramatically fewer deaths in nursing homes than New York. Let’s help the rest of the states to follow Florida’s path and learn from the mistakes of New York.

“COVID mortality and diabetes appear highly correlated. Black Americans have a disproportionate rate of diabetes. President Trump moved recently to cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month for seniors. Last July, President Trump launched the Advancing American Kidney Health initiative, with stated goals:

  1. Reducing the number of Americans developing end-stage renal disease
  2. Having more ESRD patients receive dialysis at home
  3. Doubling the number of kidneys available for transplant

“Perhaps Congress should look at what we can do to help speed up achieving these goals.

“Black Americans have the highest rate of deaths from all cancers combined. Again, cancer has a high correlation with a bad COVID outcome. Can we speed up 21st Century CURES 2.0?

“Finally, as we discussed last week, reopening the American economy is critical. The economic and health burden of the shutdown has had too big an impact on minority communities. In my home state, almost 45 percent of the accommodation and food service workforce have lost their jobs – an industry dominated by low income and minority workers. Unemployment is closely associated with higher stress, more alcohol and drug abuse, and leads to people delaying needed medical care. Getting people back to work is critical to improving minority health outcomes.

“Mr. Chairman, we know we do not have all the answers. And some of the solutions take time – Operation Warp Speed will hopefully bring a vaccine soon – but we know it won’t be today. But that shouldn’t distract us from doing things we know can help today and doing things we know past Administrations and Congresses should have done already. I look forward to a good discussion today and I yield back.”