RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The global coronavirus pandemic is only exacerbating already deeply entrenched economic inequalities here in the U.S. Some of the communities hardest hit by the virus are also some of the poorest. These are communities with the least amount of access to health care. Many are also communities of color. So how can the government better serve these systemically vulnerable populations in its response to COVID-19?
To help answer that question, we are joined by Republican South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. He is home like so many of us, on the phone from Hanahan, S.C. Senator, thank you so much for taking the time.
TIM SCOTT: Thank you, Rachel, for having me.
MARTIN: It is already clear that African Americans are dying of COVID-19 at much higher rates than white Americans. What should the federal government be doing that it is not right now?
SCOTT: Well, I think it's important for us to continue to do many of the things that we are doing. I spoke with Dr. Fauci about this issue about two weeks ago at this point. And the same protocols that everyone is working towards, following the wearing masks now as part of the protocol, the washing hands - all the hygiene protocols are really important.
However, in addition to that, I think it's important for us to have a specific and unique campaign to communicate the importance of following the protocols within the African American community where they - I was a part of a faith community call with the administration last Friday, talking to some of the major pastors around the country to disseminate more information into the community.
As Dr. Birx said, the real challenge of the COVID-19 in the African American community is not that African Americans are predisposed at a higher rate for COVID-19; it's the underlying morbidities that we have seen because of compromised one's immune system or a higher incidence in the African American communities, specifically high blood pressure and asthma. There's a disproportionate share of African Americans with those comorbidities.
And so we have to make sure that we are vigilant in providing information into the community because it will save lives.
MARTIN: You are the only black Republican in the U.S. Senate. Do you feel like you are expected to explain to your Senate colleagues what is happening right now in these communities?
SCOTT: No. Actually, I think this is basic common sense. It is our responsibility as Americans, not as black Americans or white Americans or Republicans or Democrats, to face and to defeat the COVID-19 in our nation. And wherever there are vulnerable populations, whether it's based on your age, their morbidities or, frankly, communities of color, we should all be vigilant about it. I'm thankful that the folks in the administration reached out to me before I had to reach out to them.
And my Senate colleagues, on a conference call with some of the major doctors responding to it, asked similar questions about minority groups as it relates to how we better prepare those communities for this onslaught. And I think the message has been heard.
MARTIN: Let me let me ask, though. There have been criticisms of states that do not collect race-based health data; the critique being if you don't understand how race plays into health disparities, systemic disparities, then you can't understand how African American populations are primarily susceptible to this. Does South Carolina collect that kind of data? And do you think all states should?
SCOTT: I spoke with my governor about the issue, and DHEC, the base of HHS in South Carolina, they are aggregating the information along racial lines. They have been providing me more of the information in South Carolina.
About 46% of the deaths are African Americans. We represent about 27% of the population. CDC has now at least aggregated enough information to say that 33% of the folks being hospitalized are African Africans, while 13% of the nation's population is African American. So yes, I think the information is helpful, and it's one of the things that we'll continue to work towards. Very helpful.
MARTIN: Congress is trying to come up with another relief package. What do you need to see in there to help these communities in particular? Just briefly.
SCOTT: Well, first, I think what we have to do is to make sure that we are working towards the Paycheck Protection Program, refunding it with $250 billion. It's obvious there's going to be a hole for hospitals that we're going to have to deal with.
SCOTT: And I think we'll deal with those things as we sit around and get things done.
MARTIN: All right. Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. He also has a new memoir out, we should say, titled "Opportunity Knocks." Thank you for your time.
SCOTT: Thank you. Available wherever books are sold.
MARTIN: (Laughter) Thanks.
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