This map shows the U.S. states that have released Covid-19 data by race, broken down into three critical categories: confirmed cases, deaths, and testing. It is essential that policy-makers and other decision-makers have access to these data to inform their response to the pandemic. It is also important that these data are released publicly to shed light on the intersecting forces of racial disparities, underlying conditions, and poverty that affect how the virus spreads throughout the U.S.
This page was last updated on Friday, April 17, 2020 at 8:00 AM EDT
Yes. We have data that documents how most public health challenges affect different groups in our society. For example, we know that rates of conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer increase with age. We know that conditions such as depression and obesity are more common among women than among men. An extensive amount of data shows disparities in health by race, ethnicity, and social class, across the lifespan. Every year, thousands of African American, American Indian, and Latino babies are born into poverty and other adverse circumstances, putting them at risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and asthma. Adolescents and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared to more affluent and educated peers, struggle much more with health problems including obesity, asthma, neurocognitive disorders, and mental health diagnoses. Across adulthood, African Americans are more likely to die from all causes than their white counterparts. They suffer from higher rates, at younger ages, of high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and colon cancer than white Americans. Latinx communities and Native Americans suffer from higher rates of obesity and diabetes than whites. In old age, millions of older African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinx Americans suffer more than do older whites from disease and disability. These health disparities are “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or in opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.”
It is important to have this type of demographic data because health disparities are avoidable. Health and public health professionals, administrators, employers, policymakers, and even community advocates can use these data to determine how best to use the vast resources we have in this country to improve the lives of our people. We can use the data to help us better understand who is at risk for poor health. It can help us determine which factors – at the level of individuals, families, neighborhoods, organizations (including health care), communities, and local, regional, and national policies – could be contributing to poor health across our country, and how we might intervene on all of these levels to remove barriers and enhance the facilitators of good health for everyone in our society. Health equity is “when every person has the opportunity to ‘attain his or her full health potential’ and no one is ‘disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances’”.
As more data about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic becomes available, it is increasingly clear that the disease is hitting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations in the U.S. the hardest. Although racial and ethnic information is currently available for only about 35% of the total deaths in the U.S., even this limited sample shows that Black Americans and other historically disadvantaged groups are experiencing infection and death rates that are disproportionately high for their share of the total population. For example, while Black Americans represent only about 13% of the population in the states reporting racial/ethnic information, they account for about 34% of total Covid-19 deaths in those states. Asian Americans and Latinx Americans also show elevated impacts in some regions.
There are likely multiple causes for these disparities. Existing racial disparities in the rates of chronic medical conditions increase the risk among ethnic minorities for serious complications of the novel coronavirus and resulting higher death rates. Additionally, the observed disparities in how the disease affects racial/ethnic minority populations highlight inequities in socio-economic status, living conditions, and access to care in the U.S. Because many racial and ethnic minority persons live in poverty, they are experiencing this pandemic in a different way. For example, they may rely on public transit if they cannot afford a car, need to shop more frequently for basic necessities since they cannot afford to stockpile goods, and do not have health insurance or access to regular medical care. Social distancing may not be a convenient or realistic option for many, because they may live in small, multi-family apartments or homes.
Ethnic minorities are also more likely to be exposed to infection while working, due to their overrepresentation in essential jobs in transportation, government, health care, and food supply services, and in low wage or temporary jobs that may not allow telework or provide paid sick leave.
Language or educational barriers may prevent some people from understanding best practices to stay safe during the pandemic. They may lack access to high-speed internet and telephone services, placing them at greater risk for being uninformed, and at further risk of reduced access to health care now that much of that care relies on technology for virtual visits. Due to historical and current experiences of discrimination and stigma, distrust in institutions may lead ethnic minorities to subscribe to conspiracy theories and disregard public health guidance from authorities, which puts their communities at greater risk in this pandemic.
This data could help local, state, and national policymakers identify which populations may need additional access to resources such as testing, personal protective equipment, education, and support to implement recommended social distancing practices. Such support could include providing access to dormitories or hotel rooms for persons who don’t have a place to self-quarantine or for those who need somewhere to stay if others in their environment become ill. It could include enhancing the support of food pantries and meal delivery services or waivers of restrictions on food assistance. Officials could also fund childcare services, food, and educational resources for children whose parents are unable to provide these due to the economic hardship resulting from the pandemic. Meaningful actions to support these communities and protect public health could also include protective policies for workers, including paid sick leave and provision of health insurance, Medicaid expansions, and extending the enrollment periods for health insurance exchanges. Policymakers should also work to make sure relief funds are available to the communities most in need by streamlining application processes and allowing for extensions of subsidies when the crisis begins to subside.