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Racial Disparities In COVID-19 Impact Emerge As Data Is Slowly Released


Alarms have been raised this week that the coronavirus is having a disturbing disproportionate impact on communities of color. But as the nation's death toll climbs, there's still a lack of overall information about the race and ethnicity of victims. NPR's Juana Summers reports.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Like so many families across the country, Martin Camper's family is grappling with their grief. On March 28, his great-aunt died after being hospitalized with coronavirus in Baltimore.

MARTIN CAMPER: It was lonely, I guess, in the fact that, you know, you're kind of like, oh, I'm the only one I know who's experiencing this, but then also the fact that we can't get together as a family to grieve, right? We can't - you know, I can't visit that side of the family. We can't have a funeral. We can't have a service.

SUMMERS: His cousin was hospitalized, too. She died seven days after her mother. They are two of the 124 Maryland residents confirmed to have died from COVID-19, which - limited data available - shows is hitting black and brown communities hard across the country. Dozens of lawmakers in Maryland have been pushing for the state to report data on coronavirus cases broken down by race and zip code. In Baltimore, Council President Brandon Scott introduced a bill this week that would require the city's health commissioner to do just that.

BRANDON SCOTT: We know that in black neighborhoods in Baltimore and brown neighborhoods in Baltimore and poor neighborhoods in Baltimore and certain zip codes, your health determines - are significantly different than those in others.

SUMMERS: Health professionals and advocates say having this data will help communities of color get the resources they need to recover.

STEPHEN THOMAS: Well, it's been said that the virus knows no race, no color, no socioeconomic status. It treats the wealthy and the poor the same. But that's not true.

SUMMERS: Dr. Stephen Thomas is the director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland, College Park.

THOMAS: The impact of this virus will follow the same patterns that we see in other diseases in our country, which is that there is a differential outcome for racial and ethnic minority groups.

SUMMERS: Maryland's Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that the state would begin providing a racial breakdown of its coronavirus cases, but he cautioned that there may be initial gaps in the data because 90% of testing is done by private labs.


LARRY HOGAN: Doctors send them to national labs that aren't in the state of Maryland, who don't keep that kind of information, that aren't required in their state to keep the information and aren't required by the CDC to keep the information. And so it's hard for us to gather the information.

SUMMERS: Maryland started releasing some of that data for the first time today. The state is about 30% black, but in cases where a person's race is known, black residents make up more than half of deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been under increasing pressure to release more data and to be more transparent about the toll of the coronavirus on communities of color. Kristen Clarke is the executive director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

KRISTEN CLARKE: We need the CDC to begin publicly reporting racial and ethnic demographic data. We need this data with respect to COVID-19 cases, tests performed and fatalities.

SUMMERS: The Trump administration has acknowledged this problem this week. On Wednesday, the CDC released some racial data for March hospitalizations in 14 states, including Maryland. It showed that one-third of patients were black, suggesting that black populations might be disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Juana Summers, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAECHULGI'S "CALM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, alongside Ailsa Chang, Ari Shapiro and Mary Louise Kelly. She joined All Things Considered in June 2022.