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Sun, Sep

Mississippi, COVID-19 and Truth

VOICES - Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s baseless claims about unvaccinated Black people being the bearers of COVID-19 were not surprising at all. This is yet another instance of people, and not just elected officials, using Black folks as scapegoats for the failures of the state. 

Lt. Gov. Patrick responded to Fox News’s Laura Ingraham on August 19th saying: “The biggest group in most states are African Americans who have not been vaccinated. The last time I checked, over 90 percent of them voted for Democrats in their major cities and major counties.” The last time we checked, these statements lack substance. What Lt. Gov. Patrick achieved in the Thursday night interview was not to uncover the truth, but to disseminate misinformation and fan the flames in our already politically divisive country. His ill-conceived assertions reflect the unfortunate reality that people can easily, dangerously spin fiction into fact, and still garner proponents of a fallacious correlation. 

Let’s set some things straight. Here in Mississippi, Texas’ neighboring COVID-19 hotspot state, the top 19 counties with the highest COVID-19 infections in the state are all primarily populated by white, unvaccinated individuals from rural areas according to data from One Voice, a leading Mississippi non-profit. For instance, Neshoba County, a county populated by about 60 percent of white individuals, saw an average of 271.9 new confirmed cases per day, per 100,000 residents last week—the highest average surge in cases seen in Mississippi. The evidence clearly points out that Black people do not account for the largest share of unvaccinated adults, a reality that Lt. Gov. Patrick has repeatedly failed to acknowledge. 

In Texas, vaccination rates among Black people are in fact statistically lower compared to other racial and ethnic groups, with 29 percent currently vaccinated as of August 20th. However, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Black people, who make up about 13 percent of the state’s population, hold 16 percent of the state’s cases. On the other hand, White and Hispanic Texans amount to over 80 percent of the population and carry about 70 percent of cases. 

Mississippi faces similar COVID-19 challenges. Less than 40 percent of the state’s population are fully vaccinated. This month alone, nearly 12,000 Mississippi students have tested positive for COVID-19, and almost 30,000 students are in quarantine. Last week, about 1,000 contract health workers were sent to assist Mississippi’s fourth COVID-19 surge. But just two weeks ago, Governor Tate Reeves said on Facebook, “We are not panicking,” and, “My number one goal from day one of this pandemic has always been to protect the integrity of our health care system.” 

We are a state that has not expanded Medicaid. We are a state that has underfunded public education systems. We are a state that does not offer our colleges and universities, particularly our historically Black colleges and universities, the resources they need. We have a severely under-checked budget system that attacks poor folks and Black folks more than they do wealthy individuals. For years, the Black community has been stressing the imperative for the state to offer more public health care funding. And now, when we have very specific examples of our institution’s failures, the blame game card is conveniently dealt versus taking responsibility for past failures and trying to move forward with tangible solutions. 

Coupled with the state’s ill-advised regulations of not requiring mask mandates, many states such as Mississippi and Texas’ new waves of Delta variant infections will continue to balloon if stricter legislations are not put in place to protect the lives of all residents. And, with our nation’s history of placing medical barriers for non-white individuals, our vaccination rates will not improve unless we provide vaccine equity and proper health care resources for all individuals in need. 

In fact, over the past month, vaccinations among minority groups have been on the rise. More Black people are getting vaccinated, and data from the Kaiser Family Foundationand the NAACP support this statement. Per the Kaiser study, between August 2nd and August 16th, vaccination rates among Black and Hispanic individuals increased by 2.5 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively. In a recent study as part of the NAACP’s COVID.KNOW MORE initiative, 70 percent of Black Americans have either been fully vaccinated, or have had their first dose of a vaccine, with plans to get the second. 

Additionally, of those vaccinated, 90 percent say they will receive the booster shot if the CDC recommends one. Yet, we continue to notice a pattern of elected officials blaming minority communities for COVID-19. These officials, and many who choose to believe these grotesque fabrications fall short in understanding that the COVID-19 virus has no specification for the type of person it infects. Regardless of race, religion, political party or socioeconomic status, the virus has no boundaries—period. What seems to be the case here is officials expanding their boundaries of lies relating to the pandemic, and presenting targets when it becomes well-suited to certain officials’ political agendas. 

We must make it our common goal to fight COVID-19 together with tangible, equitable solutions. The unwise solution is to tear other communities apart and place blame on those who least deserve it. To defeat COVID-19, we must fight with facts. Because the remarks from Lt. Gov. Patrick were clearly anything but fact.

 

(Dr. Corey Wiggins is executive director, Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.)