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Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) said at a virtual Axios event Thursday the pandemic has "exacerbated" health disparities and revealed "our systemic disinvestment" in addressing them.

Why it matters: In the U.S., people of color are more likely to be diagnosed with the coronavirus, suffer serious illness, become hospitalized because of COVID and die from it. They are also are more likely to be without health insurance.

  • The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention called racism a "serious public health threat" earlier this month, noting that COVID disparities reflect "inequities that have existed for generations."

What she's saying: "In my home state of Alabama, communities of color often have poor access to care, preventive services and health care insurance coverage," said Sewell, who co-chairs a racial equity initiative on the Ways and Means Committee.

  • "We have not expanded Medicaid, for example, and we've seen closures of our rural hospitals, which have disproportionately affected people of color, as well as rural citizens of Alabama as a result.
  • "No American, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, should be denied access to quality, affordable health care," she said, adding that universal health care should be a "central legislative priority."

The bottom line: The pandemic "has really laid bare the systemic disinvestment that we've had over the years in trying to close these health disparities," she said.

  • "That is the first step, acknowledging that there is a historic, institutional, systemic problem that only can be addressed if we acknowledge it and tried to tackle it on all fronts."

Watch the full event here.

Go deeper

Updated Jul 30, 2021 - Health

DeSantis issues order barring Florida schools from mandating masks

Photo: Michael Reaves via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Friday issued an executive order that bars local school districts from requiring students to wear masks when they return to the classroom next month.

Why it matters: The spread of the Delta variant has led to a spike in new infections across the United States, triggering another round of debate about COVID guidelines in schools.

Updated Aug 3, 2021 - Economy & Business

More corporations are requiring workers to get vaccinated

Graphic: Axios Visuals

Life for the unvaccinated could get more difficult as bosses increasingly move to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory.

The big picture: The federal Government in May said it is legal for companies to require employees to get vaccinated for coronavirus.

Updated Jul 28, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on racial inequality

Today at 12:30pm ET, Axios co-founder and CEO Mike Allen and Axios Today host Niala Boodhoo discussed how leaders in their respective fields are working to achieve racial equity, how institutions are reckoning with their histories and what is being done to create lasting change, featuring Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), activist and scholar Rosa Clemente and Michelle Duster, author of Ida B. The Queen.

Rep. James E. Clyburn addressed the ongoing fight against systemic racism in America and the importance of a bipartisan path forward. 

  • On the debate over critical race theory in education: “This is a red herring. This is what people are trying to use in order to spread strife...I just think that that's where we are missing the mark, by not explaining to the American people that this is the truth.” 
  • On how the corporate world can advance equity: “I believe that the corporate world really drives so much of the economic activity that takes place in this country. And [it] ought to really play a role there and make sure that we do not allow the limiting of democracy...That's why you see a lot of corporate people in Georgia now stepping forward, saying we are not going to allow these [voter] laws that you pass to define what Georgia is all about.”

Michelle Duster spoke about her great-grandmother Ida B. Wells, discussing her legacy in journalism and speaking out against systemic racism.

  • On journalism as a tool to expose injustice: "If you decided to push the boundaries and try to fight for first class citizenship, there was pushback and ultimately violence. She exposed this reality that lynching was being used as a form of domestic terrorism."
  • On how using the truth sparks change: “You have to tell the truth in order to make change. We have to admit that there's a problem before we can solve it. She was using journalism as a way to shed light on the truth, she was using the truth as a weapon, really against these false narratives that were being used to justify violence that was being inflicted on the Black community. She truly believed that the truth would lead to justice.”

Rosa Clemente dove into the impact of racism in America and what can be done to advance progress on this front.

  • On the impact of the pandemic and the effect of racism on health outcomes: “We as Black and brown people have died disproportionate to the number of people [in the US.] I think it's important that people look at this pandemic because it has shown and shine a light on all the systemic injustices that are happening.”
  • On changing the narrative around allyship: “I don't need an ally. I need you to be an accomplice for justice. I need you to dedicate your life to ending white supremacy and white privilege. Not when it's trendy, not when it's easy, but at the times that it is hardest for a white person to do that. That is the time they should be doing that work.” 

Axios CEO & Co-founder Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie G. Bunch III and global head of environmental, social and governance at Bank of America Andrew Plepler where they discussed Bank of America’s partnership with the Smithsonian.  

  • Lonnie G. Bunch III on the Smithsonian's role in addressing systemic racism: “We were devastated by the dual pandemics, the pandemic of racism and the unfairness in terms of health access...We thought it would be important for us to use our resources to create an opportunity for the American public to find a true understanding of its past and to find hope. So that's what we wanted to do, was to provide opportunities where people use a trusted brand of the Smithsonian to talk about issues, better understand issues of race, and to ultimately help us find that shared future.”
  • Andrew Plepler on Bank of America’s responsibility as a financial institution: “We view it as imperative to our role in society to address some of the great challenges that we face as a country, and we think that a financial institution absolutely can be a partner in examining those challenges and in deploying resources to address those challenges. And there are no two greater challenges today than climate and racial equality.”

Thank you Bank of America for sponsoring this event.