When the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center complained recently to federal authorities that Mississippi has not done enough to fight the COVID-19 pandemic’s oversized impact on minority communities, the state Department of Health was ready with a strong response.
The complaint claimed that Mississippi and various public and private organizations received more than $15 billion in federal money for the COVID-19 response, “yet the state has continued to provide a discriminatory program, resulting in disproportionate rates of sickness, hospitalization, and death in Black, Indigenous, and brown communities.”
Mississippi Today quoted Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer, who acknowledged racial disparities in COVID-19 cases at the beginning of the pandemic. But he said the state Department of Health worked hard to fix that.
“Although the state encountered numerous challenges to advancing the equity mission — including early vaccine access, trust issues, and technological barriers to vaccine appointments — a statewide coalition of agency, faith, medical and community leaders was able to deliver much-needed information, vaccines and PPE to minority populations across the state,” Dobbs said.
Another Mississippi-based website, Y’all Politics, cited information from the Department of Health that indicates Dobbs is correct.
The numbers say 62% of Black residents in Mississippi received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while only 54% of whites did. The gap was similar for residents who received a second dose: 56% of Black residents and 49% of whites.
It is certainly fair to note that one reason the white vaccination percentages were low is that a significant number of people decided they weren’t getting the shots or wearing a mask — period, end of story. But it’s no great stretch to suspect that some Black residents made the same decision and simply weren’t as vocal about it.
Other data from the state Department of Health also supports Dobbs.
Through April 12, Mississippi reported 704,000 COVID-19 infections (almost 25% of the population). Of that number, 406,000 patients, or 58%, were white, while 249,000, or 35%, were Black.
As for COVID-19 deaths, there have been 12,170 in Mississippi. Of these, 7,159, or 59%, were white, and 4,550, or 37%, were Black.
These numbers square closely to the 2020 census count for Mississippi, which said 56% of residents were white and 37% were Black.
Other figures may bolster the civil rights groups’ complaint. But the most important numbers — infections and deaths — say that in terms of race, neither the pandemic nor the state discriminated.