Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 23, 2020. (House Television via AP) Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 23, 2020. (House Television via AP)

Rep. Lauren Underwood, (D-Ill.), led a virtual panel discussion on healthcare disparities during the coronavirus pandemic, alongside Rep. Sheila Jackson (D-Texas) and Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). During the meeting, representatives and public health officials discussed the disproportionate effects COVID-19 has had in communities of color, and the steps the country should take to prevent such disparities in potential future pandemics. 

“I am deeply concerned that this pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on the health and wellbeing of people of color,” Underwood said in a statement. “In my home state of Illinois, Black residents, who make up less than 15 percent of the population, account for more than one-third of cases. And across our state, Latino-majority areas have the highest number of confirmed cases.”

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there are 2,641 new cases statewide, bringing the total upto 70,873 reported cases as of May 7. So far, 3,111 people have died due to the virus. Of those cases, black people make up almost 27% of reported cases and over 34% of deaths according to data from the COVID Tracking Project. 

Public health officials, including Samantha Artiga, who leads the Disparities Policy Project at the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Dr. Michelle Williams, a dean at Harvard’s University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said housing insecurity, food insecurity and a lack of testing in these communities play a big part in driving racial disparity. 

“Beyond this, and in addition to this pandemic, there are many important things that we have to continue to do,” Williams said during the meeting. “Things that we have failed in being completely successful in doing. We can’t have public health equality if there are still disparities like housing and food insecurity.”

Williams called for a sustained safety net that includes provisions for safe housing and a clean environment.

“The federal government must do more to create the conditions that allow all Americans to be healthy and improve health outcomes in marginalized communities, especially during this crisis,” Underwood said.