Baltimore Council President Scott pushes for racial breakdown in city coronavirus cases

Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott introduced a bill Monday night requiring the city health commissioner report patients’ races and ZIP codes during a health emergency, a move designed to produce data that’s not been made public in Maryland during the coronavirus pandemic.

Scott and the 14-member council, all Democrats, are among a growing chorus of lawmakers calling for a breakdown of COVID-19 cases by race, alongside already-public data on patients’ gender, age and county.


In a highly segregated city, where a person’s life expectancy varies dramatically based on what area they live in, Scott said this information is vital.

“We have to make sure we are tracking the data and putting it out in a public fashion to ensure resources are brought to bear in these communities,” he said.


Scott joins dozens of members of the Maryland House of Delegates in pushing for this information. Eighty state lawmakers have signed a letter urging the state health department to release data on coronavirus cases broken down by race.

For more than a week, Baltimore Democrat Del. Nick Mosby has been leading the charge to get more details on the people getting sick and dying of COVID-19. He said early access to racial data could help officials spot disparities early in the crisis.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Mike Ricci, said last week that the state is seeking information about the races of patients from testing sites.

Other states already have published preliminary data on the races of coronavirus patients, which showed black people were disproportionately affected.

Both District of Columbia and city of Chicago officials released a breakdown by race Monday. In Chicago, about 70% of people who have died from COVID-19 are black. Roughly 30% of Chicago residents are black.

Chicago is now launching a health campaign focused on the city’s black and brown communities, Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday.

Black people in America suffer higher rates of asthma and diabetes — the kinds of underlying health conditions that could put patients at a greater risk of COVID-19 complications. Researchers also are concerned about how doctors’ implicit biases could impact patient care.

Baltimore’s population is more than 60% black.


Prince George’s County, also more than 60% black, has seen the largest number of coronavirus-related deaths in Maryland so far: 23.

The threat from the new coronavirus loomed large at Monday’s council meeting, the first in Baltimore history to be held entirely online. Hogan has banned large gatherings of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus. Scott was the only member in the council chamber; others joined in from offices or homes, with Democratic Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer appearing outdoors.

Other than a few technical hiccups, the meeting progressed smoothly as the council considered coronavirus-related bills as well as regular city business.

“We’ll do whatever we have to to show the citizens of Baltimore we’re getting to work amid this crisis,” Scott said.

The council passed a resolution requesting the city law department appeal a recent U.S. District Court decision that found a Baltimore air quality ordinance passed last year is invalid.

“The judge made a bad call,” said Democratic Councilman Ed Reisinger.


The law imposed strict emissions regulations on the city’s two waste incinerators, the Wheelabrator waste-to-energy plant near the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore and a medical waste plant in Curtis Bay. The judge ruled the city law undermines federal regulation of the plants.

“We believe the court made the correct ruling on March 27 and are confident an appeal would result in the same interpretation of applicable law...," Wheelabrator said in a statement Monday.

The council also gave final approval to two proposed charter amendments, the source of much tension between the legislative body and the mayor. One would reduce the number of council votes needed to override a mayoral veto from three-fourths to two-thirds, and the other would modify how long the council has to consider overriding a veto.

Any charter amendment ultimately needs the direct approval of voters in a referendum.

The council also sought an update on the city’s response to COVID-19 disease, and made several recommendations to both local and federal officials, including that unoccupied city-owned properties be used during the state of emergency to house people with nowhere else to live.

Council members addressed residents directly at the end of the meeting, imploring them to take the governor’s stay-at-home order seriously.


Democratic Councilman Eric Costello said he would be asking the Recreation and Parks department to remove swings from city parks, after seeing families playing on them in Federal Hill — despite directives not to do so.

At the end of every meeting, the council holds a moment of silence for the city’s homicide victims. This week, council members honored those who have died from COVID-19, too.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.