State and federal data needs improvement to fully capture the impact of COVID-19 on minority populations

Available data and news reports have shown the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 outbreak is having on communities of color, and further illustrates how longstanding health and socioeconomic disparities result in negative health outcomes for racial and ethnic minority populations. However, data reporting on COVID-19 racial and ethnic demographics is not consistent across states. To fully capture and understand the impact of COVID-19 on minority populations and implement strategies to address it, state and federal data must be improved.

Why is the current pandemic is disproportionately affecting racial and ethnic populations? Communities of color have less access to health insurance and health care; have higher rates of underlying chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure that make a person more susceptible to complications from COVID-19; live in densely populated areas and multigenerational households that make social distancing more difficult; and work in essential service industry jobs that require in-person interactions with other people. Communities of color also encounter bias in the health care system that results in inadequate care. All of these are contributing factors that make racial and ethnic minorities more vulnerable during a public health emergency, and the available data is demonstrating the impact.

People of color in Illinois, for instance, make up just 39% of the state’s population but account for 49% of confirmed COVID-19 cases and almost 59% of deaths. When the data is broken down further, it shows the devastating affect COVID-19 is having on black Americans, in particular. In Michigan black residents make up 14% of the population, but currently account for 32% of positive COVID-19 cases and 41% of deaths. In Louisiana, black residents account for 32% of the state’s population but 57% of COVID-19 deaths. In Wisconsin, black residents make up only 6% of the population but account for 22% of COVID-19 cases and 31% of the deaths. Nationally, black Americans make up 13% of the country’s population, but data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the black population accounts for 29% of COVID-19 cases and 21% of deaths.

While 46 states and the District of Columbia are currently reporting racial and ethnic data, the types of data being reported are inconsistent. Some states are reporting both COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths by race/ethnicity, while some are only reporting cases or deaths. In terms of national data, the CDC has recently started to report race/ethnicity data, but it is quite limited because currently 55% of the CDC’s confirmed cases do not have race specified or the data is missing.

To better address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, it’s essential that data on confirmed cases and deaths by race/ethnicity is consistently reported. Data also needs to be more comprehensive and capture information such as the number of people tested by race/ethnicity, which will allow officials to see any inequities with access to care. Officials in the Trump administration have indicated that the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) plans to release data on COVID-19 outcomes, race and ethnicity in early May. Accurate and comprehensive data by race and ethnicity is critical in developing effective public health strategies that can address the needs of minority populations during this pandemic and beyond.  
This information is current as of May 5, 2020. You can find more information and resources for kidney patients by visiting our special coronavirus webpage at AKF will update the page with important information for kidney patients and their caregivers as the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold.


About the Author

Mike Ly

Mike Ly is the director of public policy at the American Kidney Fund.