Tracking Covid-19 Impact on Individual NJ Communities

Hon. Ronald L. Rice is a Democratic member of the New Jersey State Senate, representing District 28.

Because of the life-and-death magnitude of the current pandemic on our state, I have personally asked Governor Murphy, on behalf of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus and the minority leaders statewide, to immediately mandate this legislation by executive order or regulations. Regardless of the process, however, it is critical that the bill be enacted for our instantaneous understanding of where federal and state relief funding are needed. The data culled from hospitals is our best measure for pinpointing which communities are in greatest distress and for allocating subsidies and stimulus resources proportionate to the suffering and damage in each area.

As a result of decades-long systemic injustice throughout the nation, the poor, minorities and people of color are always subject to greater instances of disease, poor health, and shorter lifespans. COVID-19 shines a spotlight on that disparity as we see minorities, and especially blacks, succumb to this pandemic at an alarmingly accelerated rate.

Beyond the underlying vulnerability caused by poor health, many blacks and minorities are further jeopardized by their reliance on low wage jobs, now considered “essential,” that can’t be performed remotely, as well as their dependence on public transportation. Combined, these conditions put blacks, Latinos, and other minorities in life-threatening situations.

Preliminary reports from cities across the country, and in places where ethnic and racial data is already being tracked, reveal an astounding racial disparity among COVID-19 victims. In Chicago, blacks make up 70 percent of the fatalities while they account for only 30 percent of the population. In Milwaukee County, where 27 percent of residents are black, they account for a full 81 percent of the dead.

Regardless of whatever demographic information is garnered from New Jersey’s hospitals, our people are undergoing unfathomable suffering and dire consequences right now. The coronavirus will leave our hardest hit communities ravaged and in desperate need of healing and investment. We must compile the hard data now, on a daily basis as the tolls rise, to allocate the necessary funds essential to treat, repair, and empower these communities with the commensurate response.

The bill calls for the Commissioner of Health to mandate that hospitals submit details on the age, ethnicity, gender, and race of persons in New Jersey who have tested positive for or have died from COVID-19 until the end of the state’s declared public health emergency. It also requires reporting on the outcomes of attempts by citizens to get treatment, including whether they were admitted or turned away.

The reported statewide data is to be compiled by county and municipality. The Commissioner of Health is to prepare and submit a report compiling the data reported pursuant to the bill’s provisions to the governor and to the legislature.