Top Texas politician blames Black people for rising COVID rates

Texas' lieutenant governor blamed rising hospitalisation and death rates from COVID-19 on unvaccinated Black people — comments that were quickly denounced as racist.

Republican Lt. Governor Dan Patrick made the remarks on Thursday night on a Fox News segment in response to question about the latest coronavirus surge in Texas. The state is seeing its highest hospitalisation rates since January as the highly contagious delta variant spreads.

“The biggest group in most states are African Americans who have not been vaccinated,” Patrick said.

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Texas Lt Gov Dan Patrick has pointed the finger at African-Americans for the state's skyrocketing coronavirus rates.

Patrick did not change course on Friday, saying “Democrat social media trolls” misstated facts and that he had used state data in his assertions. His office did not respond to a request for additional comments.

But statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services don't back that. Black people — who make up about 12 percent of the more than 29 million people in Texas — accounted for about 15 percent of total COVID-19 cases and just more than 10 percent of deaths.

Patrick also told Fox News that Democrats were to blame for low vaccination rates among Black people, who frequently support that party, even though he believes Republicans should persuade more people to get their shots, too. But he also tiptoed around that 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 it on them," Patrick said. “That’s their individual right.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has slammed Lt Gov Dan Patrick's remarks about African-Americans in Texas.

City and county officials in Texas — many of whom are are in ongoing legal battles with state government over mask mandates — met Patrick with swift rebukes.

“The Lt. 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 encompasses Houston, tweeted that Patrick’s comments were “racist and flat out wrong.”

“It’s disappointing that the Lt. Governor would rather scapegoat Black people than do the right thing and work with local government to help control the spread of COVID-19,” Ellis wrote.

About 8 percent of the eligible Black population in Texas has been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data, compared with 35 percent of the white population. White people make up the largest racial group in Texas at about 40 percent of the total residents.

Overall, 44 percent of Texans are fully vaccinated, less than the national rate of about 50 percent. COVID-19 is blamed for more than 50,000 deaths in the state, and more than 600,000 across the U.S.

Protesters outside a hospital in Baytown, Texas, which had mandated all staff get vaccinated.

Failures and abuses on behalf of government — including the “Tuskegee syphilis study,” in which unsuspecting Black men were used as guinea pigs in a study of a sexually transmitted disease — have led to mistrust in public institutions for many African Americans.

Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas State NAACP Conference, said those historic disparities combined with the politicization of vaccines, misinformation and access to shots is the problem. Bledsoe said he was “shocked” by Patrick’s comments.

“I am so concerned that he is going to give field to somebody to go out there and do something outrageous because they think someone in their community got infected by Black people. That is just not true," Bledsoe said. “Reach out beyond your political base, reach out to people of all the political persuasions in Texas, all the races and religions, and say, ‘Let's come together,’ because this is a major problem."

Texas has banned any local jurisdiction from enforcing mask mandates, in spite of surging coronavirus cases.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths from COVID-19 in Texas has risen over the past two weeks from 50.29 deaths per day on August 4 to 115.14 deaths per day on August 18, according to data from Johns Hopkins University Centre.

This is not the first time that Patrick has been criticised for comments related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an April 2020 appearance on Fox News, Patrick said the U.S. should get back to work in the face of the pandemic and that people over the age of 70, who the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says are at higher risk for severe illness from the coronavirus, will “take care of ourselves.”

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