Dan Patrick, the Republican lieutenant governor of Texas, has refused to apologise for blaming rising Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths on unvaccinated African Americans, comments one Black Houston official called “racist and flat out wrong”.
Doubling down on his remarks to Fox News, Patrick blamed “Democrat social media trolls” and said “Democrats continue to play politics with people’s lives”.
Sylvester Turner, the Democratic mayor of Houston, who is African American, said Patrick’s comments were “offensive and should not be ignored”.
Amid widespread concern over the spread of the Delta variant, Texas is experiencing its highest hospitalisation rates since January. It emerged this week that the state had asked federal authorities for more mortuary trucks.
The overwhelming majority of Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths in the US are among those who have not received a vaccine.
Speaking to Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Thursday night, Patrick said: “The biggest group in most states are African Americans who have not been vaccinated.
“The last time I checked over 90% of them vote for Democrats in their major cities and major counties, so it’s up to the Democrats – just as it’s up to the Republicans – to try to get as many people vaccinated.”
In his statement on Friday, Patrick said federal and state data “clearly indicate that Black vaccination rates are significantly lower than White or Hispanic rates”. But statistics from the Texas health department did not back him up.
Black Texans, about 12% of more than 29 million people in the state, have accounted for about 15% of total Covid-19 cases and just more than 10% of deaths.
About 8% of the eligible Black population in Texas has been vaccinated, according to state data, compared with 35% of the white population. But white people make up the largest racial group in Texas at about 40%. Overall, 44% of Texans are fully vaccinated, less than the national rate of about 50%.
The seven-day rolling average of daily Covid deaths in Texas rose from 50.29 a day on 4 August to 115.14 a day on 18 August, according to Johns Hopkins University. Covid-19 is blamed for more than 50,000 deaths in the state and more than 627,000 across the US.
Patrick also told Fox News Texas Republicans “respect the fact that if people don’t want the vaccination, we’re not going to force it on them. That’s their individual right”.
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City and county officials joined Turner in condemning Patrick’s remarks. Rodney Ellis, a commissioner in Harris county, which covers Houston, called Patrick’s comments “racist and flat out wrong” and added: “It’s disappointing that [he] would rather scapegoat Black people than do the right thing and work with local government to help control the spread of Covid-19.”
Failures and government abuses, including the “Tuskegee syphilis study”, on unsuspecting Black men, have led to mistrust among some African Americans.
Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas State NAACP Conference, told the Associated Press such historic disparities combined with the politicisation of vaccines, misinformation and lack of access to shots to make it difficult to vaccinate more African Americans.
He also 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.”
Patrick, 71, has made Covid-related headlines before. In March last year he told another Fox News host, Tucker Carlson, many older Americans would gladly risk dying of Covid if it helped keep the economy open.
“No one reached out to me,” he said, “and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”