AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – The Texas lieutenant governor blamed rising hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19 on unvaccinated blacks – comments that were quickly denounced as racist.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made the remarks Thursday night in a Fox News segment in response to a question about the latest wave of coronavirus in Texas. The state is experiencing its highest hospitalization rates since January as the highly contagious delta variant spreads.
“The largest group in most states are African Americans who have not been vaccinated,” Patrick said.
Patrick did not change course on Friday, saying “Democratic social media trolls” distorted the facts and that he used state data in his claims. His office did not respond to a request for further comment.
But statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services do not support this. Blacks – who make up about 12% of Texas’ more than 29 million people – accounted for about 15% of total COVID-19 cases and just over 10% of deaths.
Patrick also told Fox News Democrats were to blame for the low vaccination rates among blacks, who frequently support that party, even though he believes Republicans should also persuade more people to get vaccinated. But he also tiptoed this issue, which has been sensitive for the GOP.
“But we respect the fact that if people don’t want the vaccination, we’re not going to force them,” said Patrick. “It is their individual right. “
Texas city and county officials – many of whom are in a legal battle with the state government over mask warrants – met Patrick with swift reprimands.
“The Lieutenant Governor’s statements are offensive and should not be ignored,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who is black, said on Twitter.
Rodney Ellis, a black commissioner for the county that includes Houston, tweeted that Patrick’s comments were “racist and downright bogus.”
“It is disappointing that the lieutenant governor would rather make black people scapegoats than do the right thing and work with the local government to help control the spread of COVID-19,” Ellis wrote.
About 8% of the total number of people in Texas who have been fully vaccinated are black, according to state data. State data does not reveal what percentage of the African American population has been vaccinated.
Overall, 44% of Texans are fully vaccinated, less than the national rate of around 50%. COVID-19 is responsible for more than 50,000 deaths in the state and more than 600,000 in the United States
Government failures and abuse – including the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study,” in which unsuspecting black men were used as guinea pigs in a study into a sexually transmitted disease – have led to many African Americans are suspicious of public institutions.
Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas State NAACP Conference, said these historic disparities combined with the politicization of vaccines, misinformation and access to vaccines were the problem. Bledsoe said he was “shocked” by Patrick’s comments.
“I’m so worried that he will give someone land to go out there and do something outrageous because he thinks someone in his community has been infected with black people. It’s just not true, ”Bledsoe said. “Go beyond your political base, reach out to people of all political stripes in Texas, of all races and religions, and say, ‘unite’, for this is a major issue. “
The seven-day moving average of daily COVID-19 deaths in Texas fell from 50.29 deaths per day on August 4 to 115.14 deaths per day on August 18, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University Center.
This is not the first time Patrick has come under fire for comments related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an appearance on Fox News in April 2020, Patrick said the United States should get back to work in the face of the pandemic and that people over the age of 70, who the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say are in a higher risk of severe coronavirus disease, ‘take care of us’.
Acacia Coronado is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative body. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.
This story was first published on August 20, 2021. It was updated on August 21, 2021 to correct the percentage of total vaccinations in Texas that were given by black people.