As COVID-19 Slams into Black Communities Many Question: Where’s the Data? Governor Newsom Responds

Apr 6, 2020 | Community News, Health

S. E. Williams | Contributor

Editor’s Note: This is an update to the original article published Monday April 6, 2020. On Wednesday, April 8, 2020 California Governor Gavin Newsom released information regarding the race and ethnicities of approximately 40 percent of the nearly 17,000 people in the state who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) website displays an informative graphic titled “COVID-19 by the Numbers.” 

The graphic updates the status of COVID-19 cases in California as it spreads throughout the state, highlighting important details about the status of its impact including total number of confirmed cases statewide. The information is further divided into categories which include age, gender hospitalizations and fatalities. There is however, one missing component—a breakdown by race.

Yet, such information is critical and would certainly be useful to leaders of the state’s African American communities including elected officials, religious leaders and others working in such communities considered among the groups most at risk of contracting the most-deadly form of COVID-19. 

Recently, California Senator Kamala Harris joined  U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congressional Representative Ayanna Pressley – both from Massachusetts—and others in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar calling for comprehensive demographic data on people who have tested and/or are being treated for COVID-19 virus. 

“Any attempt to contain COVID-19 in the United States will have to address its potential spread in low-income communities of color, first and foremost to protect the lives of people in those communities, but also to slow the spread of the virus in the country as a whole,” they wrote adding, “This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities.” 

Today, Black communities across the nation including California are experiencing the reality of those vulnerabilities as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to mount among Blacks. 

The IE Voice/Black Voice News reached out to the CDPH and inquired about its failure to include demographic details in its COVID-19 by the Numbers posting, why the information was not included and where within the agency such information can be accessed?

In response the agency stated, “We are working as quickly as possible to provide additional data. The information we have currently posted on the CDPH webpage and this data portal is what we have available at this time ( this data is updated daily).” 

Neither of the links provided in the department’s response include demographic information. CDPH did however offer, “The information you requested may be made available in the future.”

In the letter to Azar, Harris and the others stressed, “This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities.” 

The Senators and Representatives further urged Azar to direct sub-agencies of HHS including the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to work with municipalities, states and private labs across the country to ensure racial and ethnic data are being collected.

Their push for transparency of data comes as communities across the country – from New York to New Orleans – are reporting huge disparities in the number of Black Americans contracting the virus.

“This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities,” the Senators and Representatives argues. 

Both inland area counties in Southern California were asked about the status and availability of demographic information regarding COVID-19’s impact in their respective areas. 

Linda Culp, Public Health Information Officer for San Bernardino County’s Department of Public Health explained, “We currently do not have that information readily available although demographic information is being discussed regarding making it publicly available.” Culp, however, was unable to provide an estimate regarding how soon the county planned to publish the information.  

Riverside—the other county in Southern California’s inland region—had yet to respond to Black Voice News’ request regarding the publication of COVID-19 demographic information for residents in its area. 

In the meantime, during a recent press briefing with Ethnic Media Services, Daniel Turner-Lloveras, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harbor-UCLA/David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, was asked about the lack of public information regarding the demographic impact of COVID-19. To which he responded with a question of his own, “Why is it that they are not reporting race [as part of the information published about COVID-19]?  I think there is a real problem we do not have accurate data by race.”

When asked by a California Black Media reporter, California Governor Gavin Newsom initially weighed in on the issue of publicly accessible demographic data related to COVID-19 during a press briefing Tuesday, April 7. 

“We see the world through a different lens, one size does not fit all,” he acknowledged. “We see the world through a bottom up, culturally competent lens. We need to meet people where they are and as a consequence—and, to answer your question—yes, we’re disaggregating the data to break things down both on hospitalizations, ICUs, and in terms of death rates.”

During Tuesday’s briefing the governor explained although he has received some preliminary data, his office was still waiting for all the data before he makes it public, noting he wants it to be both accurate and in real time. 

However during Wednesday’s daily press briefing, the governor was prepared to share some initial data.

Newsom explained so far state health officials have analyzed 6,306 cases of individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and initial results show 30 percent are Latino, 14 percent are Asian, and six percent are Black. The majority of the remaining 50 percent are assumed to be White.

Specifically, the total number among those 6,306 cases analyzed who are now deceased was not revealed by the governor; however, he did offer some information in this regard,  noting 29 percent of those who have died as a result of COVID-19 in the state were identified as Latino, 16 percent as Asian, and three percent as Black. 

On Tuesday when the governor initially discussed the issue of data he also offered, “Let me extend a point of consideration,” he added thoughtfully. “[W]e need to do the same as it relates to testing. Because the disparities in testing are a point of obvious and real concern.”

Newsom advised his goal is to make sure all communities in the state of California are being tested, not just some. 

As he stressed, “[N]ot just people that have a capacity to fill out an online application and get triaged at one of the drive by testing sites or someone that has a primary care physician and outstanding health plan that is prioritized in that system to get a PCR test.”

“But to make sure,” he added “We’re in East Palo Alto, East LA, East Oakland and other parts of this state, making sure we do justice to the prism as it relates to race, ethnicity.”

For more Black Voice News coverage on race and the COVID epidemic see Census 2020, Covid-19 and California’s Black Communities

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