Rep. Barbara Lee, civil rights attorneys want demographic data on who is getting sick from coronavirus

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is facing increasing pressure as community groups, doctors, healthcare workers and members of Congress Tuesday called for the CDC to publish more demographic details on who is getting sick and dying from the novel coronavirus. 

State officials have started sounding the alarm bells, saying African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than other groups.

"Slightly more than 70% of all the deaths in Louisiana are African Americans," said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards at a news conference Monday.

In Louisiana, African Americans make up only one-third of the state's population.

The CDC as well as many states have not been reporting or even recording demographic data on all the COVID-19 cases.

KTVU contacted the California Public Health Department to request demographic data but was told state officials are still collecting information and were not available for comment.

Illinois has seen a trend similar to Louisiana. In Chicago, African Americans make up 30% of the city's population, but are 52% of the positive COVID-19 cases and 72% of the COVID-19 deaths.

In Michigan, the state's Department of Health and Human Services reports that African Americans make up 14% of the state population, but are about 33% of COVID-19 cases statewide and 41% of the deaths.

That prompted the Lawyers Committee For Civil Rights Under Law to send a letter to health And Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, signed by hundreds of doctors and other health professionals, calling for demographic data to be collected and made public.

Dorian L. Spence is Director of Special Litigation and Advocacy at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

"The push here is to make sure marginalized communities get the testing diagnosis and treatment they need because this virus know no color no race or no age," said Spence.

More than a dozen U.S. Senators including California's Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein joined in the call for public data.

East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee of the Congressional Black Caucus also weighed in.

"The data is extremely important, but we have to target resources and mitigate this right now because people are dying everywhere," Lee told KTVU.

Dr. John Swartzberg, a UC Berkeley Public Health professor emeritus, says socioeconomic inequalities and poorer access to healthcare, rather than race are likely behind the higher death rates for black Americans.

"We know that populations from lower socioeconomic groups have many more chronic diseases than other populations," he said. "These specifically relate to chronic heart problems, chronic lung problems, and diabetes." 

The nation's top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says underlying conditions do put people at greater risk.

"The things that get people into ICU's that require intubation and often lead to death, they are just those comorbidities that are unfortunately disproportionally prevalent in the African American population," said Dr. Fauci at Tuesday's White House briefing.

 Swartzberg says policymakers can take steps immediately to help.

"We can set up clinics and make clinics available to very diverse populations but we need resources for that," said Swartzberg, who suggested that the country learn from the pandemic and treat the health care system and public health officials like the military, which is maintained in a state of readiness in case it is called into action. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. ana Katsuyama is a reporter forKTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter@JanaKTVU