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  1. News Release

  2. Oct 28, 2020

At Local Hearing, D.C. Physician Leader Urges Government to Address Underlying Conditions that Increase Deaths from COVID-19

“We must address the underlying health conditions that make COVID-19 deadly.”

Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a nonprofit with more than 12,000 doctor members— called on the District of Columbia’s Committee on Health to address the underlying health conditions that make COVID-19 deadly. Dr. Barnard testified today on behalf of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia during the D.C. Public Oversight Hearing on the “Public Health Element of the District’s COVID-19 Response.”

“We must reduce the risk of dying of an infection by addressing the underlying health conditions, like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, that make COVID-19 particularly deadly,” says Dr. Barnard. “They must be treated as the urgent issues that they indeed are.”

As of Oct. 25, 2020, 642 Washingtonians have died from COVID-19.

When the virus emerged in China, the COVID-19 in-hospital death rate was 11% for individuals with poorly controlled diabetes. When diabetes was well controlled, that figure dropped to 1%. Diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and other conditions have clearly emerged as factors that turn COVID-19 into a predictable killer.

Dr. Barnard and the Medical Society of the District of Columbia want to ensure that Washingtonians have access to basic information on how to bring these conditions under control.

“We must get simple, credible information out to every Washingtonian about how to tackle these underlying conditions as a matter of urgency,” said Dr. Barnard during the hearing. “Let us put it on the D.C. government’s website, ask our media, our community leaders, our schools, and our places of worship to share this information.”

“The virus is here. Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity make it a killer. We cannot simply leave our population vulnerable,” he continued. “The Medical Society of the District of Columbia is ready to provide this information for you, and we are eager to work together to save lives.”

The D.C. government is not alone in neglecting the underlying medical conditions that make COVID-19 especially deadly. The White House Coronavirus Task Force includes experts in infectious disease, but none in diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic medical conditions. Dr. Barnard urged the committee to not follow the current federal administration’s neglect of underlying medical conditions as its model for handling the pandemic.

Councilmember Vincent C. Grey added that he did not realize there was no one on the White House Task Force addressing diabetes as an underlying condition:

“We appreciate the advice and suggestions that you have provided to us. I did not know myself that there was no one in the federal group addressing diabetes. Hopefully there will be someone who hears your testimony today.”

To speak with Dr. Neal Barnard, please contact Donna Steele at dsteele [at] (dsteele[at]pcrm[dot]org) or 202-527-7342.

Find his written transcript and video of his testimony here.

Media Contact

Donna Steele



Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

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