Coronavirus and Inequality

Published — April 8, 2020

Black or Hispanic in New York? Data says you’re at greater risk for COVID-19

Patrons board a train while wearing masks at the Alantic Avenue station in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Introduction

New data from New York City shows COVID-19 is infecting and killing people in majority black and Hispanic communities at higher rates than in communities that are mostly white.

Preliminary data released today by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows a higher rate of fatalities for black and Hispanic New Yorkers. The age-adjusted rate was twice as high for Hispanics and nearly twice as high for black New Yorkers than it was for the city’s white residents.

A Center for Public Integrity analysis of data released by the department Tuesday shows a strong connection between the percentage of people who tested positive for the virus and the percentage of non-white or Hispanic people who live in each ZIP code.

The stats do not count hundreds of New Yorkers who may have contracted the COVID-19 disease but haven’t received a test.

The numbers are the strongest evidence yet for a systemic link between demographics and positive test rates in New York City. A similarly clear-cut relationship between income and the disease in New York ZIP codes has been reported elsewhere.

The statistics raise questions about whether the most impacted New Yorkers are getting adequate access to testing.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams wrote to Mayor Bill de Blasio on April 2 asking for more data on the virus’s racial impact and for a plan to expand access to testing.

De Blasio acknowledged the disease was having an unequal impact in the city at a news conference Tuesday.

“We need to get whatever data we have out there,” Dr. Uche Blackstock, a physician and former associate professor at NYU Langone who founded Advancing Health Equity, said on a conference call with reporters Monday. “We do have enough to show some very concerning trends.”

This suggests the outbreak in New York mirrors racial and ethnic disparities evident in other places where demographic statistics have become available in recent days, including: Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; Illinois; North Carolina; and Milwaukee. Statistics from those places show black Americans testing positive or dying at higher rates.

Rubix Life Sciences, a bio-tech data firm, released an analysis of healthcare data April 1 it said shows those disparities are reflected in several states.

A group of 17 senators, including Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, have called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release demographic data nationwide.

“The disparities we are seeing in sickness and death among Black Americans around the country are shocking,” Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a press release Tuesday. “Everywhere we look, the coronavirus is devastating our communities. We urgently call on our elected leaders to ensure we are tested, treated, and protected to prevent further spread of this horrible disease and more loss of life in our communities.”

Among risk factors faced by black Americans in the midst of the pandemic: higher rates of mortality from pre-existing health conditions, blue-collar jobs that may not offer telework, distrust of public health authorities, difficulty accessing health care and the need to travel farther for necessities

Liz Essley Whyte contributed reporting.

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