April 8, 2020

Early data coming out of some states shows black communities are disproportionally affected by Covid-19, prompting a civil rights group and doctors to call on CDC to release national race data on the epidemic.

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President Trump on Tuesday indicated his administration would release national data with racial breakdowns of Covid-19 cases and deaths soon.

Local data shines light on racial disparities among Covid-19 patients

CDC and most state health departments have not released racial data on who has contracted the new coronavirus or died from Covid-19, the disease the virus causes. Instead, CDC's reports have broken data down by age and gender, and many states are releasing county-level data with little demographic information, the Washington Post reports.

However, a small number of states—including Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, and North Carolina—have shared racial breakdowns in their states. While the New York Times reports that the data is preliminary and "much remains unknown," experts say the data is "alarming" and indicate black communities are disproportionally affected by Covid-19.

For example, the Times reports black people make up 15% of Illinois' population but account for 28% of confirmed Covid-19 cases and 43% of the deaths. Data from North Carolina shows black people account for 38% of Covid-19 cases and 31% of deaths but make up 22% of the population, the Post reports. And in Louisiana, data shows black people account for 33% of the population but make up 70% of Covid-19 deaths.

County-level data in Milwaukee also suggests Covid-19 may be deadlier for black residents, the Post reports. For instance, in Milwaukee County, the medical examiner's office said as of Monday, black people accounted for 33 of the 45 Covid-19 deaths, though fewer than half of the county's coronavirus infections were among black people. Data from the Chicago Department of Public Health shows black residents make up 30% of the city's population, but account for 68% of the city's Covid-18 deaths and 52% of confirmed Covid-19 cases.

According to ProPublica, the data coming out of Milwaukee and other areas indicates how the virus may be affecting different racial groups on a national level. And a growing body of physicians, public health experts, lawmakers, and civil rights activists say the data shows why CDC and other states should be tracking—and publicly sharing data on—Covid-19 cases by race.

Why black residents are being hit so hard by Covid-19

Many experts say that black residents are being disproportionately hit by Covid-19 in part because of decades of environment, economic, and political factors that affect black residents' health and job prospects.

For example, blacks are more likely to have other underlying chronic health conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid-19, such asthma, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.

Black residents are also more likely to have jobs in fields like health care, transportation, and food supply, all of which have been deemed "essential" by state governments, meaning they can't stay home from work, the Post reports. In Wisconsin, the Post reports, many black residents were unable to work remotely when the governor issued stay-at-home orders. They needed to travel to jobs in nursing homes or manufacturing and often have to travel outside of their neighborhoods to get essential items such as groceries and gas.

Elaine Nsoesie, an infectious disease modeler at Boston University's School of Public Health, said, "If you walk outside and see who is actually still working, the data [doesn't] seem surprising."

"[Covid-19] is just unmasking the deep disinvestment in our communities, the historical injustices, and the impact of residential segregation," Camara Jones—a family physician, epidemiologist, and visiting fellow at Harvard University—said. "This is the time to name racism as the cause of all of those things. The overrepresentation of people of color in poverty and white people in wealth is not just a happenstance … It's because we're not valued."

Oluwatoyin Adeyemi, an infectious disease specialist, said many instructions from health experts on social distancing didn't take into account the living situations of people in poverty. For instance, experts advised people to call their primary care physician instead of going to the ED if they experience symptoms, but many people in poverty don't have a primary care physician. People also were encouraged to go to drive-thru testing centers rather than clinics or hospitals, but that requires a car, which many in poverty don't have, Adeyemi said.

"Social distancing, for a lot of people, is a privilege," she said

Trump vows to release racial data on Covid-19 patients

Experts say CDC needs to release race and ethnicity data on Covid-19 patients to better inform the public health response in black communities—and on Tuesday President Trump vowed to release that data, The Hill reports.

Trump and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a White House briefing with reporters acknowledged that the data coming out of states show black residents are being disproportionately affected by Covid-19. 

"We're doing everything in our power to address this challenge. It's a tremendous challenge. It's terrible," Trump said. He added that his administration would release some "very, very nasty" data in the coming days (Johnson/Buford, ProPublica, 4/3; Samuels, Washington Post, 4/6; Williams, Washington Post, 4/6; Flynn, Washington Post, 4/7; Oppel et al., New York Times, 4/8; Lyons, New York Times, 4/7; Hellman, The Hill, 4/7).

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