The pressure is on. The pressure will not relent.
Even so, it could be some time before all or even most of the relevant agencies begin releasing racial data. But public-health officials and medical providers like my wife are fighting COVID-19 now. People are sick now. People are on ventilators now. People are dying now. We need more racial data now. We need to assess the data we have right now.
When I examine the trickle of data from states and counties on coronavirus patients, when I scrutinize the racial demographics of hot spots, when I study the survey data, it sure seems to me as if the viral pandemic is hitting people of color the hardest.
Time and again, a state or county releases racial data. Time and again, those numbers reveal a sizable racial disparity. Time and again, black Americans are overrepresented among the infected and dead. America’s newest infection seems to be mating with America’s original infection, reproducing not life, but death.
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In Michigan, black Americans comprise 14.1 percent of the state population, but an ungodly 40 percent of coronavirus deaths. In Washtenaw County, home to Ann Arbor, 48 percent of residents hospitalized with the coronavirus are black, though black people make up only 11 percent of the county. In Illinois, the infection rate among black Americans is twice their percentage of the state population. In North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, black people comprise 32.9 percent of the residents, but 43.9 of the confirmed coronavirus cases, as of March 30. In Milwaukee, black Americans make up 26 percent of the county, but nearly half of the infections and a maddening 81 percent of deaths as of Friday.
This racial pandemic within the viral pandemic is threatening Sadiqa’s entire immediate family. She’s more worried about her parents’ and brother’s health than her own. They seem to be well. But for how long? Just thinking about where her younger brother lives, where her parents live, makes us sick. They, too, are on the front lines of the deadly war.
Sadiqa’s younger brother lives in New York City, the site of the highest number of cases and deaths in the country. City officials have yet to supply racial data on testing, cases, hospitalizations, or deaths. But there are some indications that communities of color may be particularly affected.
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On April 1, The New York Times released data on the number of coronavirus cases per 1,000 people for every zip code in NYC. Using Census Reporter, I studied the racial makeup of the zip codes with the highest and lowest coronavirus rates per 1,000 people in NYC. Queens zip code 11370 has the city’s highest rate of confirmed infections, with 12 cases per 1,000 people; the neighborhoods it includes are 37 percent Latino, 25 percent white, 22 percent Asian, and 14 percent black. In the adjacent zip code of 11369, which has the city’s second-highest rate of confirmed infections with 10 cases per 1,000 people, the population is 64 percent Latino, 15 percent black, 12 percent Asian, and 8 percent white.