Dr. Richard Besser, the former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during part of the first term of the Obama administration, said that he worries as states continue their push to reopen, he is concerned that communities of color will begin to see more “bad outcomes” since the virus disproportionately impacts them.
“I worry, though, that as states start to open up, their economies, get more people back to work, which is something everyone wants to see happen,” Besser, a former medical editor at ABC News, said on the ‘Powerhouse Politics’ podcast.
Besser, the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is working with the multi-state council to reopen the northeastern part of the country.
“But as they do that without having in place the public health measures, the trends in disease, the support systems that that we all feel are necessary if they do this without that in place, that many places are going to see their health health care systems overwhelmed just like we saw in New York,” he said.
Besser said he is worried that reopening too early will “lead to deaths which could have been prevented.”
In a Tuesday interview with ABC News’ “World News Tonight” Anchor and Managing Editor David Muir President Trump said it was likely that there would be more deaths as the country reopens.
“It’s possible there will be some because you won’t be locked into an apartment or a house or whatever it is,” Trump said. “Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.”
ABC News Political Director Rick Klein asked Besser if he believes that reopening will continue to hit communities of color the hardest.
“The burden of this is falling disproportionately on black Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, lower income workers,” Besser said. “Those groups of a very high proportion fall into categories that we consider to be essential. So frontline workers, whether it’s in health care, public safety, food supply, transportation.”
A CDC study found in the state of Georgia that the proportion of patients hospitalized with coronavirus who were black was higher than expected based on overall hospital admission standards and concluded that “it is important to continue ongoing efforts to understand why black persons are disproportionately hospitalized for COVID-19, including the role of social and economic factors.”
“If you’re somebody, though, who has to make the choice between stay home and protecting yourself and your family and your community or going out to work so you can put food on the table and pay rent. You know, that’s a very different kind of decision. And blacks, Latinos, low income workers are forced to make that decision much more,” he said.
Communities of color and lower income Americans are also more likely to have chronic health conditions, putting them more at risk to falling ill to coronavirus, Besser said.
“And you add on top of that much higher rates of the underlying medical conditions that put people at risk. So heart disease, diabetes, lung problems, a lot having to do with worse environmental conditions in which people live. That means that not only is the exposure risk increased, but the chances of having a bad outcome are higher,” he said.
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl asked Besser if he has any sense of when life will begin to look “normal” again for Americans.
“Yeah, that’s that’s the question everyone wants the answer to. And it’s the fundamental question that we don’t have an answer to,” he said. “We don’t determine the timeline. The virus does.”
“Unfortunately, we are still really early in this pandemic,” Besser told Karl.
President Trump has used is near-daily briefings to make claims that the Obama administration didn’t offer enough funding to replenish medical supplies. Although Besser wasn’t with the administration late into Obama’s term, he said that interpretation doesn’t seem necessarily accurate.
“And one of the things that that you see in all political administrations, you saw the Bush administration, the Obama administration and the Trump administration is that it’s very easy for elected officials to say we’re not going to put the money in to maintain our public health system,” Besser said.
Besser said he would like to see more leadership from the CDC as the country seeks guidance on how best to deal with the virus continues to change across the country.
“The CDC is the world’s strongest public health agency and they should be out front here,” he said. “If public health is now front and with that messaging, if it’s all being done by politicians, half the public’s going to discount it at face value based on who the political messenger is.”
“And no one will be able to know what’s being told as a change based on new information in science versus what’s being done for political reasons. And that’s the situation we’re in right now,” he said.