While the U.S. economy and entire industries have been completely upended by the global coronavirus crisis, research shows that the pandemic is disproportionately affecting African American communities around the country. In places like Chicago and Louisiana, black people make up 70% of the cases and fatalities despite being the minority in both areas. Meanwhile, in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, blacks make up about 27% of the population but comprised almost half of all COVID-19 infections and 71% of all fatalities.
Despite the racial disparities, a new study from Johns Hopkins University revealed that just two states, Kansas and Illinois, have released a full report of racial demographic data related to COVID-19 cases. The report comes as experts are calling for racial data transparency related to COVID-19 infections in order to protect vulnerable communities.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing deep structural disparities in the U.S. healthcare system and is hitting some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations the hardest. These tragic disparities are crying out for urgent attention from policymakers and the media,” reads a statement from Johns Hopkins University sent to BLACK ENTERPRISE. “Although racial and ethnic information is currently available for only about 35% of the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., it is clear that Black Americans and racial minorities experience infection and death rates that are disproportionately high for their share of the total population.”
To pressure states to become more transparent, Johns Hopkins University launched a new tracking map on Friday highlighting which states are releasing critically important race-based COVID-19 data – and which are not. According to the map, only Kansas and Illinois have released racial breakdowns of their COVID-19 data pertaining to confirmed cases, deaths, and testing. Thirty-four states have released racial data about the number of confirmed cases and 26 have publicized the number of deaths broken down by race. A few states have not released any racial data at all.
Lisa A. Cooper, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity, says this information is critical for governments and public health departments as they distribute resources to combat the spread of the virus.
“Having the information can help our policymakers, our administrators and our employers determine how to best use the resources that we have in our country,” Cooper, a Distinguished Professor of Health, Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Hill.
She added that a number of environmental and social conditions place people of color at greater risk of exposure to the virus in addition to an increased risk of suffering from serious complications from COVID-19, which has led to higher death rates.
“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.
Such conditions include high rates of homelessness, housing insecurity, and food insecurity, which can prevent people from practicing social distancing. On top of that, black and Hispanic workers are more likely to commute to their jobs.
“You layer those other social barriers on top of health care, it really sets up folks to be at a disadvantage,” Cooper said. “A lot of people tend to think health as being primarily caused by individual behaviors. It’s also a result of environmental factors and the choices people have.”