United Church of Christ

COVID-19 Data Collection by Race Improves, with Some Gaps

United Church of Christ – Wider Church Ministries
Humanitarian Development Team
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Daily Briefing
Barbara T. Baylor, MPH – Temporary Health Liaison

COVID-19 Data Collection by Race Improves, with Some Gaps

Editor’s Note: A new Racial and Ethnic Disparities (“RED”) Task Force has formed and has begun to meet as a cross-programmatic* team in the National Setting of the United Church of Christ. Its purpose: to find ways to overcome inequities and inequalities related to the interrelated pandemics of racism in society and disparities in health, including the disproportionately high toll of COVID-19 on communities of color. Want to join? Contact baylorb @ ucc.org (no spaces).

Until recently, racial data for COVID-19 was sparse, and it’s still incomplete. The good news is that now 48 states plus Washington, D.C., report at least some data. Census tract data have helped to reveal where “hot spots” are within low-income communities.

Data for race or ethnicity are known for around half of all cases and 90 percent of deaths. The pattern is clear: Communities of color are being hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19.

According to The AMP Research Lab, the Black community is experiencing a COVID-19 mortality rate 2.9 times higher than the rate for Asians, 2.7 times higher than the rate for whites, and 2.5 times higher than the rate for Latinx. Black people account for 25 percent of those who have tested positive and 39 percent of the COVID-19-related deaths, while making up just 15 percent of the general population.

NPR has analyzed demographic data collected by the COVID Racial Tracker, a joint project of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center and the COVID Tracking Project. NPR compares each racial or ethnic group's share of infections or deaths - where race and ethnicity are known - with their share of population. Among findings:

  • In 32 states plus Washington, D.C., Black people are dying at rates higher than their proportion of the population. In four states, the rate is three or more times greater.
     
  • In 42 states plus Washington, D.C., Hispanics/Latinos make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it's more than four times greater. 
     
  • In 37 states plus Washington, D.C., White Americans' deaths from COVID-19 are lower than their share of the population.
     
  • Asian Americans also have seen a disproportionate share of cases. For example, in South Dakota, they account for only 2 percent of the population but 12 percent of cases. Data collection for Asian Americans is still spotty in places, making comparison to census data difficult.
     
  • While data for smaller minority populations is harder to come by, where it exists it also shows glaring disparities. In New Mexico, Native American communities have accounted for 60 percent of cases but only 9 percent of the population. Similarly, in Arizona, at least 136 Native Americans have died from COVID-19, a striking 21 percent of deaths in a state where just 4 percent of the population are Native American.

The reasons for these disproportionate numbers (while not new) include environmental, economic and political factors that have put people of color at higher risk of chronic conditions that leave lungs weak and immune systems compromised: asthma, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Redlining and environmental racism, for example, have condemned Black neighborhoods to dirty air, contaminated water and food deserts.

Dr. Alicia Fernandez, a professor of medicine at the University of California - San Francisco, also names less access to quality healthcare and a disproportionate representation in essential frontline jobs that can't be done from home, increasing their exposure to the virus. High rates of poverty and low wages mean that many Latinx and Black people feel compelled to leave home to seek work. Dense, multi-generational housing conditions make it easier for the virus to spread.

While African Americans have higher death rates due to COVID-19, Latinx people bear a disproportionate share of infections. Latinos and Hispanics test positive for COVID-19 at rates higher than their share of the population in all but one of the 43 jurisdictions that report Hispanic ethnicity data (42 states plus Washington, D.C.).

For example, in Virginia, more than 12,000 cases – 49 percent of all cases with known ethnicity - come from Hispanic/Latino communities, which make up only 10 percent of the population. San Francisco General Hospital has noticed that while Latinx made up about 35 percent of patients there before the pandemic, they now make up more than 80 percent of COVID-19 cases.

Given that racism continues to be a driver to the systemic inequities that are persistent in healthcare, reporting COVID-19 data for all racial and ethnic groups is all the more important, not only to our understanding of the spread of the virus but also to inform the appropriate response and planning.


The Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force (RED), is a collaborative project of Wider Church Ministries, Humanitarian and Development Team, Justice and Local Church Ministries, Racial Justice Program and the COREM bodies. Issues being addressed include COVID-19 testing and access to treatment, deliberate and excessive violence against men and women of color, and voter suppression, among others.

 

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