Civil rights organizations, state leaders call on McMaster to combat racial disparities from COVID-19

Civil rights organizations, state leaders call on McMaster to combat racial disparities from COVID-19
Civil rights organizations and state leaders met at the State House calling on Gov. Henry McMaster to do more to address health care disparities affecting African Americans. (Source: WIS)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - COVID-19 continues to impact minority communities disproportionately in South Carolina.

The latest numbers reported by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) show that 43% of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state are African American, and 56% of deaths are African Americans, while African Americans only make up 27% of the state’s population.

On Monday, civil rights organizations and state leaders met at the State House calling on Gov. Henry McMaster to do more to address the disparities.

Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland County, said the disparities from COVID-19 are decades in the making and that it’s more critical than ever for McMaster to act with urgency to do something about it.

“After decades of disparities, economic disparities and health disparities, the chicken has come home to roost,” Howard said. “And now our counterparts are acting like they are so surprised that African Americans are disproportionately impacted by this virus.”

Howard said these long-standing disparities have led to a prevalence of pre-existing conditions and a lack of adequate health care for minority populations.

Leaders from the SC NAACP and the National Action Network stressed it’s time for McMaster to act.

“We’ve been emailing and calling this governor for almost a month now and he has not responded to our call. We need a response so we can take it back to our community,” Elder Johnson, the National Action Network South Carolina State President, said.

Johnson said greater testing for minority communities is crucial.

“We need testing directly in these communities by mobile units and community centers,” Johnson said.

Other leaders said there needs to be greater education and outreach about the virus. That education should include protective measures each person can be taking, advocates said. They also called for more personal protective equipment (PPE) for communities hit hard by the virus.

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“We just can’t shoot from the hip day by day based on what is happening, we need to know -- what is the plan? How do we move from point A to point B?” Brenda Murphy, the South Carolina NAACP President, said.

DHEC officials said they are working to address these concerns by partnering with the Commission of Minority Affairs and the Housing Authority to create minority health PSAs and billboards. DHEC said it’s also hosting telebriefings with faith-based and political leaders to reach minority populations.

However, local leaders said they still want to hear directly from the governor.

“I would call on the governor to rush to address the disparities because we have not done so in the past,” Howard said. “We are now in a crisis and we should have some sense of urgency to the disparities with the minority community.”

Many of the leaders who spoke Monday voiced that until greater testing and outreach is happening in minority communities, they don’t believe opening businesses and the economy back up is a good idea.

DHEC says the Bureau of Health Improvement and Equity has also been working to provide equal health services and address these disparities.

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