Growing Data Underscore that Communities of Color are Being Harder Hit by COVID-19

NOTE: More recent data are available in the “Demographics” section of the “COVID-19: Confirmed Cases & Deaths by State” dashboard found here.

In a recent analysis, we highlighted the higher risks COVID-19 poses for communities of color due to underlying health, social, and economic disparities. When we released that analysis, only a handful of states were reporting racial and ethnic data for confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, but those data were already showing stark, disproportionate impacts for some groups of color. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began reporting national data on confirmed coronavirus cases by race and ethnicity as of April 17, 2020. Similar to earlier state data, they suggest that the virus is having disproportionate effects, with Black people accounting for 34% of confirmed cases with known race/ethnicity compared to 13% of the total population as of April 20, 2020. However, race and ethnicity is missing or unspecified for nearly two-thirds (65%) of the CDC-reported cases, limiting the ability to interpret the data. In addition to the CDC data, a growing number of states have started reporting racial and ethnic data for cases and deaths, which provide further insight into how the virus is affecting communities across the country:

As of April 15, 2020, 33 states, including DC, were reporting data on distribution of confirmed coronavirus cases and/or deaths by race/ethnicity. Our analysis of these data finds that they continue to paint a sobering picture of how the virus is disproportionately affecting communities of color, as described and illustrated below (Figure 1). These data will continue to evolve as states update their data and additional states begin reporting data by race and ethnicity. Going forward, we will update these data on a regular basis and add them to our State Data and Policy Actions to Address Coronavirus dashboard.

In the majority of states reporting data, Black people accounted for a higher share of confirmed cases (in 20 of 31 states) and deaths (in 19 of 24 states) compared to their share of the total population. These disparities were particularly large in Wisconsin, where Black people made up a four-times higher share of confirmed cases (25% vs. 6%) and an over six-times higher share of deaths (39% vs. 6%) compared to their share of the total population. Similarly, in Kansas, Black people accounted for a three-times higher share of cases (17% vs. 6%) and an over five times higher share of deaths (33% vs. 6%) than their share of the total population. Other states where the share of deaths among Black people was at least twice as high as their share of the total population included Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Arkansas and Indiana. Moreover, Black people accounted for over half of all deaths in DC (75%), Mississippi (66%), Louisiana (59%), Alabama (52%), and Georgia (51%).

 We also observed disparate impacts for Hispanic and Asian individuals in some states. In 6 of 26 states reporting data, Hispanic individuals made up a greater share of confirmed cases compared to their share of the total population, with the largest relative differences in Iowa (17% vs. 6%) and Wisconsin (12% vs. 7%). Asian people made up a higher share of cases or deaths relative to their share of the total population in a few states, although the differences generally are small. In Alabama, Asian people accounted for 4% of deaths compared to 1% of the total population. Although we identified fewer disparities for these groups compared to Black people, less states report data for these groups and states differ in how they report these data. For example, states vary in whether they include or exclude Hispanic individuals from racial categories and some report data for Asian people alone, while others combine Asian people with another racial group. Moreover, states do not provide data for subgroups of Asian people, which can mask disparities for subgroups who are at higher risk.

Data remain largely unavailable for smaller groups, including people who are American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN) and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (NHOPI), limiting the ability to identify impacts for them. These groups are at high risk given large pre-existing disparities in health, social, and economic factors, and there are large disparities in some of the states where data are available. For example, AIAN people make up a larger share of confirmed cases compared to their share of the total population in New Mexico (37% vs. 9%), and AIAN individuals make up five times more deaths compared to their share of the total population in Arizona (21% vs. 4%). The Indian Health Service (IHS) also reports confirmed cases among IHS patients. However, not all AIAN people are able to access services through IHS, and IHS has historically been underfunded to meet the needs of AIAN people, so these data do not provide for a complete understanding of impacts for this group.

Comprehensive nationwide data by race and ethnicity will be key to understanding how COVID-19 is affecting communities as well as shaping and targeting response efforts. While the majority of states are reporting racial and ethnic data, in many states, race and/or ethnicity is unknown for a significant share of cases and deaths. The unknown race share exceeds 20% for cases in 14 states and for deaths in 4 states. Moreover, as noted earlier, there are inconsistencies in how states report data that limit comparability across states. As such, the availability of comprehensive, consistent nationwide data disaggregated by race and ethnicity remains important for understanding the impact of COVID-19 across communities. Moreover, going forward, these data will be important to broader efforts to advance equity and address disparities that existed prior to COVID-19 and that will likely widen due to COVID-19.

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