Story at a glance
- A new map is tracking which states have released racial data pertaining to confirmed coronavirus cases, deaths and testing.
- While the data available is limited, it shows minorities are consistently overrepresented in COVID-19 cases.
- Social and environmental inequities as well as access to health care all influence the racial demographics of patients.
Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracking map has replaced many Americans’ homepages over the last few weeks as the novel coronavirus pandemic disrupts life across the country. Now, there’s a new tab, breaking down the data by race.
The Racial Data Transparency map shows which states have released racial data pertaining to confirmed coronavirus cases, deaths and testing. Lisa A. Cooper, doctor and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, says this information is vital for governments and public health departments as they distribute the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package passed by Congress.
“Having the information can help our policy makers, our administrators and our employers determine how to best use the resources that we have in our country,” Cooper said.
Only Kansas and Illinois have released racial breakdowns of their testing data, while 26 states have released racial data on coronavirus deaths and 34 on confirmed cases. But even within the limited data available, Cooper said, minorities are consistently overrepresented. While black Americans represent only about 13 percent of the population in the states reporting racial or ethnic information, they account for about 34 percent of total COVID-19 deaths in those states.
“These disparities in health are not new, they’ve existed for some time and they’re due to a variety of different factors ranging all the way from the social and environmental issues to health care access issues,” she said.
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Access to testing and treatment is only one part of the picture. Black, Latinx and Native Americans, especially, Cooper said, have high rates of preexisting conditions that put them at high risk for contracting COVID-19 and suffering more severe cases of the disease.
“A lot of people tend to think health as being primarily caused by individual behaviors,” Cooper said. “It’s also a result of environmental factors and the choices people have.”
High rates of homelessness, housing insecurity and food insecurity impact the extent to which people can safely engage in social distancing measures. At the same time, a disproportionately high share of black and Hispanic workers are in jobs where they cannot telecommute, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute.
“You layer those other social barriers on top of health care, it really sets up folks to be at a disadvantage,” Cooper said.
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