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Dan Patrick falsely blames COVID surge on unvaccinated Black Texans

As one expert put it, "People are already getting hurt by this virus, and it makes absolutely no sense for us to add insult to injury."
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks in McAllen, Texas, on Jan. 10, 2019.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks in McAllen, Texas, on Jan. 10, 2019.Sergio Flores / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

In March 2020, as much of the nation was just starting to confront the severity of the COVID-19 crisis, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) appeared on Fox News and presented a curious argument. To hear the Republican tell it, seniors should be willing to risk their wellbeing in order to prevent temporary, short-term economic hardship.

"Those of us who are 70 plus, we'll take care of ourselves," Patrick said at the time.

It was an absurd pitch for a great many reasons, and served as a reminder to the public: those seeking wisdom during the pandemic probably shouldn't turn to Texas' lieutenant governor.

A year and a half later, Patrick is still at it. The Houston Chronicle reported overnight:

In a string of claims aired on Fox News late Thursday night, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick deflected criticism of Governor Greg Abbott and instead took aim at Black Texans, a population that has faced a greater rate of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths while often having less access to vaccination sites compared to other racial groups.

Patrick acknowledged Texas' public-health crisis -- rising cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities -- and said he's aware of the criticisms of the state's Republican leadership. But the lieutenant governor insisted the blame be directed at unvaccinated African Americans, not the GOP officials who remain passive toward the pandemic.

"The Democrats like to blame Republicans," Patrick said. "Well, the biggest groups in most states is African Americans who are not vaccinated. Last time I checked, over 90 percent of them vote for Democrats in their major cities and major counties."

He added, "[I]n terms of criticizing the Republicans for this? We're encouraging people who want to take [the vaccine] to take it -- but [Democrats] are doing nothing for the African-American community that has a significant high number of unvaccinated people."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said soon after, "The Lt. Governor's statements are offensive and should not be ignored."

I think that's right on both counts. Indeed, let's unpack the many ways in which Dan Patrick was completely wrong.

First, there's the data the Texas Republican is choosing to ignore. The Washington Post reported this morning that the latest data from the Texas Department of State Health Services "shows that the African American population there is not driving the increase in cases." While vaccination rates among Black Texans could certainly be better, when it comes to the COVID surge in the Lone Star State, it's Whites and Hispanics who make up the bulk of the state's cases.

In fact, the latest data suggests unvaccinated White Texans outnumber unvaccinated Black Texans by a roughly three-to-one margin.

The article quoted Jorge Caballero, a former instructor at the Stanford University School of Medicine who is now working as a health data scientist, saying, "Making a statement that casts blame on a racial or ethnic minority for the spread of disease is a well-known racist trope that predates most of us. People are already getting hurt by this virus, and it makes absolutely no sense for us to add insult to injury."

And second, the idea that Texas Democrats are "doing nothing for the African-American community" is bizarre. There are local Democratic officials throughout the state turning to mask and vaccine policies designed specifically to curtail infections.

It's curious that Patrick hasn't heard about this -- since it's Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) who've gone to great lengths to block these efforts.