California releases limited racial breakdown of coronavirus patients and deaths
California officials for the first time on Wednesday provided a partial breakdown of coronavirus infections and deaths by race, releasing preliminary figures showing the distribution is broadly in line with the state’s demographics.
Gov. Gavin Newsom emphasized the breakdown was based on limited data, which has been an obstacle across the state because many reports of new cases and fatalities lack information on patients’ race or ethnicity.
With about 37% of patients identified by race, here is a breakdown of reported COVID-19 cases statewide:
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 1.6%
American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.2%
Here is a breakdown of deaths for the 39% of victims the state has identified by race:
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 1%
American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.6%
The governor said the preliminary figures track “modestly so, along the lines of the total population” and that his office is not seeing the disparities that some other states and counties have seen.
Newsom presented some of those numbers at a daily news briefing, but did not include whites and some other groups. The California Department of Public Health released more detailed figures later in the day, saying in a statement that “the race and ethnicity data is roughly in line with the diversity of California overall.”
Still, the sample paints an incomplete picture.
“It’s less than 40% of all of [confirmed cases] ... we’re scrubbing to get 100% as quickly as we can as soon as we can,” Newsom said. There were “no less than 10 people that are calling coroners offices, calling hospitals, double-checking data,” Newsom said, while noting that not every city and county is providing that data in real time.
Coronavirus: L.A. releases first racial breakdown of fatalities; African Americans have higher death rate
With such limited information, it is difficult to determine whether any racial groups are more likely to be hit by coronavirus. Here is a breakdown of California’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau:
Latino or Hispanic 39.3%
American Indian 1.6%
Pacific Islander 0.5%
Cities across the nation have reported a coronavirus death rate among blacks that is disproportionate to their numbers, and that has prompted scrutiny of the racial breakdown in California.
While voicing caution about the preliminary data, Newsom said the state is right to pay attention to racial disparities. He said there is “nothing more frustrating the than systemic challenges, the disparities that manifest in relationship to public health.”
“Those issues preceded this crisis and they continue to persist within this crisis,” he added.
Los Angeles County health officials released preliminary data Tuesday that showed black residents were dying at a slightly higher rate than those of other races.
L.A. County public health director Barbara Ferrer cautioned that the data was based on just 57% of reported deaths. Here was the limited L.A. breakdown:
“When we look at these numbers by the total population of each group, African Americans have a slightly higher rate of death than other races,” Ferrer said.
Black people make up 9% of the population of L.A. County. Meanwhile, Latinos comprise nearly half the county population but 28% of deaths.
California Surgeon Gen. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris acknowledged Tuesday that a rumor that African Americans had a natural immunity to the virus had caused harm among blacks, and more needed to be done to dispel it.
From the Los Angeles Times: Coronavirus in California: Stories From the Front Line is a daily 15-minute podcast hosted by reporter Gustavo Arellano.
“That rumor is completely false and it’s really important for all of us to get out there in debunking that rumor,” Harris said. “One of the pieces that we also recognized is that, because of the true and unfortunate history of medical maltreatment of different groups of people, but especially African Americans in the United States, there are real issues of trust between the African American community and the healthcare system.”
Blacks have been found to have higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking-related deaths than whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, they are more likely to not see a doctor because of the cost, CDC data shows.
Times staff writer John Myers contributed to this report.
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