MILWAUKEE, Wis. – All African Americans, Latinos and tribal community members in Wisconsin will have access to free COVID-19 testing under a plan announced Thursday by Gov. Tony Evers.
Evers' plan is an effort to combat the staggering racial and ethnic disparities Wisconsin and many other states are facing when it comes to COVID-19 cases and deaths.
African Americans and Latinos account for about half of all coronavirus cases in Wisconsin. Latinos make up less than 7% of the state's population, but account for 29% of the COVID-19 cases. African Americans make up only about 6% of Wisconsin's total population but account for 21% of the confirmed cases statewide.
About 30% of Wisconsinites who've died after contracting COVID-19 are African American.
"These disparities existed before this pandemic. But what we can do in this present circumstance is we have to, have to, have to test more people," Evers said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel. "In order for us to do the best job possible serving the disadvantaged groups in this state who are disproportionately impacted by this virus, we have to test more."
The free testing will be conducted by Wisconsin National Guard members at community testing sites throughout the state.
Race and class spell the difference:Coronavirus spares one neighborhood but ravages the next
"We can bend the curve on this if we test more," Evers said. "Is that going to solve economic disparities? No. But hopefully, it's going to save some lives, that's the critical thing right now."
Evers wants people in high-risk groups, including African Americans and Latinos, to get tested, regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms.
Clusters of COVID-19 cases emerged early amid the pandemic in African American neighborhoods on Milwaukee's north side, northwest side and Sherman Park. As of Thursday, Milwaukee County data showed there were 1,490 cases in the African American community, or about 40%, of the county's cases. African Americans are about 27% of the county's population.
More recently, spikes in coronavirus cases have been reported in largely Latino neighborhoods on the city's south side. As of Thursday, 828 of the county's 3,685 cases, or about 22%, were in the Latino community in the county, despite being about 15% of the county's population, according to county figures.
"The truth is that Latinos, I would say we're over-represented in the food industry and other industries where we would be deemed essential workers," said Milwaukee Alderwoman and state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, who represents much of the 53215 ZIP code that has seen an uptick in cases among Latino residents.
Wisconsin's racial disparities linked to coronavirus are stark, but the state is not alone in this troubling trend.
Although it is too early to determine the full magnitude of racial inequities, many of the largest coronavirus outbreaks have occurred areas with large low-income and diverse communities.
Democratic members of Congress, including Wisconsin's Moore, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Reps. Mark Pocan and Ron Kind, have called on federal officials to monitor and address racial disparities in nation's response to the coronavirus outbreak, and make that information publicly available.
Without compete demographic data, policymakers and researchers will not have information necessary to stop the escalating impact of coronavirus, the lawmakers warn.