Sen. Tim Scott on need to study racial disparities in coronavirus cases and deaths

Tim Scott on coronavirus racial disparities
Tim Scott on coronavirus racial disparities 06:39

Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is calling on the Trump administration to monitor the impact of the coronavirus on communities of color. Appearing on "CBS This Morning" Monday, Scott expressed the importance of better outreach by the federal government to minority communities about the coronavirus.

"I think it's really important for us to use all resources at our disposal to make sure that churches, small businesses, community centers are all engaged in this fight to reduce the spread of the coronavirus – across America certainly, [and] specifically in the African-American community," the senator said. "African-Americans represent about one-third of all hospitalizations, but only about 13% of the nation's population. And you'll find on most of the frontlines – in the grocery stores, some of the takeout services – you'll see a lot of African-Americans working.

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Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)., appearing on "CBS This Morning." CBS News

"And so, what we want to make sure that we understand is, that if you have a higher incidence of high blood pressure and asthma, it's really important for you to take the necessary precautions – from wearing masks, washing hands, all the protocols. This is uniquely targeting the African-American community, the strategy to make sure that we are fully prepared to undertake protocols that will save more lives than we have today."

Scott described the disparities that are occurring among coronavirus cases and fatalities as they affect the African American community: In South Carolina, for example, approximately 37% of those infected are black, though they make up only 27% of the population. In Michigan, the senator said, they account for 41% of the fatalities, but only 14% of the population; in Louisiana, 70% of the fatalities, and less than 30% of the population; and in Mississippi, over half of those infected and about 31% of the population.

"We're seeing a higher incidence, and I think [with this outreach] we can reduce that or flatten the curve in the African-American community, and it will help the nation as a whole," Scott said.

Co-host Anthony Mason asked, "Only a handful of states actually collect data on these racial disparities. What do you think a federal tracking system might do to help doctors?"

"Well, aggregating the information from the federal level will be very helpful," Scott replied. "We're doing it in South Carolina. I spoke with my governor, he's on the game, he's on spot. The data would help us to provide the type of information so that our health care workers are as protected as possible.

"My mother spent over 45 years as a nurse's aide in a hospital," Scott said. "So, making sure that the frontline folks are taken care of is really important. One of the challenges that we have going forward is, if we don't reduce the incidence of COVID-19 among our health care workers, then who's going to take care of us? The most important thing we can do is protect that frontline by putting a shield between them and their patients. The fastest way to do that is to have fewer patients. The way you do that is by following the protocols, and the masks are very important.

"I talked to Dr. Fauci about that specifically a couple weeks ago, and he said, without question, masks help you not spread to your loved ones," Scott said. "So, when you're talking with your grandmother or when you're visiting your father, it helps."

Co-host Gayle King asked, "The president, as you know, is pushing to reopen the country on May 1. Dr. Fauci has said, 'Listen, we're on the virus' timeline, not the other way around.' It seems like health experts don't believe that this is the right move. I'm wondering what you're seeing in your state of South Carolina – does it seem like the right move to you to [loosen social distancing] May 1?"

Scott replied, "What I've seen is a lot of flexibility from the administration as it relates to what that date was. The date was April 15, but the experts said that was premature. We saw it kicked to April 30. And as the information continues to be collected, I think you'll see perhaps another shift if necessary."

Scott said that in South Carolina, there have been more than 2,500 COVID-19 cases, with approximately 80 deaths: "I think we are handling it pretty well. We have some hot spots that we're concerned with, but here's what we have to do: the containment strategy was effective, the mitigation strategy is now flattening the curve. But for us to go back to work and for parents to send their kids back to schools, we're going to need an abundance of testing. The finger prick test in my opinion is what we should be focused on – making sure that we know who's had [coronavirus], and also being able to have tests on demand. … Without that certainty, I think everyone's going to be challenged as we head into the end of April saying what we should do without an abundance of testing, especially the tests that tells us who's had it."

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Center Street

Scott is also the author of the new book "Opportunity Knocks: How Hard Work, Community, and Business Can Improve Lives and End Poverty" (Center Street), which chronicles his childhood struggles in poverty.

Mason asked, "What advice would you have for anybody right now, for anyone struggling out there?"

"Hope springs eternal," the senator replied. "One of the lessons of the book that you'll learn in 'Opportunity Knocks' is, I've had health care challenges; I unfortunately fell asleep driving a car down the interstate at 70 miles per hour and went through the windshield, broke my ankle, ruined my senior football season, but I found faith as a result of that. I failed in business, but found success after that. I've lost campaigns, but even in the aftermath of the campaign losses, opportunity knocked again, and I had an opportunity to get back in politics and to finally become a United States senator.

"I have had failure, failure, failure, and it always seems that there's a silver lining, that success follows failure like night follows day. It's been a blessing. And I hope my story provides hope during these challenging times, because the one thing I'm completely confident of is, the best is yet to come for this nation and for most of us in this nation. We have very bright futures to look forward to."

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  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.