As the U.S. starts to collect more data on covid-19 infection rates, researchers are starting to break down that data into race and ethnic groups rather than just by age. While it’s too early to draw solid conclusions, researchers have noticed that black Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the virus in certain states and cities. As the New York Times reported, 70 percent of individuals who have died from covid-19 in Louisiana are black, and 72 percent of individuals who died from the virus in Chicago are black. In both locations, African-Americans only make up around one-third of the total number of residents.
Unfortunately, this kind of data is available from a limited number of places across the United States. California and New York only have infection data by county, and looking at each county’s or city’s data individually, they also do not breakdown infection rates by race. Los Angeles has age and sex-related data only. Same with Orange County and New York City, whose state currently has the highest number of covid-19 related deaths.
The emerging numbers of infection rates among African-Americans could be due to several factors. As the New York Times notes, black Americans are less likely to have health insurance, more likely to have existing health conditions, less likely to get tested, and more likely to have jobs where they can’t work from home. A pandemic, combined with existing racial inequalities, could account for these disproportionately higher numbers. A family from Spotsylvania County, Virginia says their father, Christopher Hall, was repeatedly denied a covid-19 test last month because he “didn’t meet the Centers for Disease Control’s criteria,” even though he exhibited several common symptoms of covid-19, like shortness of breath and a dry cough. By the time Hall was tested, it was too late. His family didn’t get confirmation of his positive result until two days after his death.
Not all states are reporting disproportionate infection rates among African-Americans, though. Las Vegas, for instance, is reporting an overrepresentation of blacks versus whites when compared to the actual ratio of residents. In Minnesota, infection rates among African-Americans have been reported as proportionate to their percentage in the state’s population.
That doesn’t mean that the lack of data from other states and cities isn’t going unnoticed. New York City public advocate Jumaane D. Williams wants Mayor Bill de Blasio to release race-specific data on all covid-19 cases. Several U.S. senators and members of Congress are demanding that the Trump administration collect race and ethnicity data on covid-19 testing and treatment. For many researchers, advocates, and other members of these communities, collecting this data means showing, in hard numbers, how the covid-19 pandemic plays into existing racial inequalities in American society.