Gov. Jared Polis commented on the racial differences in COVID-19 cases at an April 13 news conference, saying that asthma and diabetes — and diet — disproportionately are problems for racial minorities and could be relevant to the disparity.
Asked what his administration is doing about the disparity, Polis said, “We care about everybody” and that people live in integrated communities.
“You can’t say we’re … stopping it for Hispanics and not for white people or for blacks and not for Hispanics,” Polis said. “The reason to stay at home is for everybody; that drives down infection rates across the board.”
“The things I’ve heard is that it’s likely a proxy for socioeconomic issues — which, obviously, there’s no short-term solution for that. It’s part of a broader problem that our country has with regard to extreme income disparities,” Polis said.
Out of more than 5,000 COVID-19 cases with race and ethnicity data reported in Colorado, the black, Hispanic and native Hawaiian-Pacific Islander populations show statistically higher rates of the disease than others, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
While black or African American residents are 3.9% of the state population, they make up 7% of its cases, according to an April 13 news release.
That disparity between percentage of population and percentage of cases far outpaces all other race categories, aside from native Hawaiians-Pacific Islanders, who represent 0.6% of Colorado's cases but make up just 0.1% of its population, according to the release.
The race and ethnicity data represent 67% of all reported COVID-19 cases in Colorado as of April 13. Cases with an unknown race or ethnicity were excluded from the calculations.
Initial disease reports to public health departments often are missing information on race and ethnicity, according to the state health department, which is drafting a public health order to clarify the type of data the department needs from health care entities.
“Colorado has racial disparities in certain chronic diseases due to unequal access to health care and economic opportunities occurring over many generations,” the state health department said in the release.
Because studies have shown people with underlying health conditions are more likely to die of the virus, tracking racial and ethnic data is a high priority for the department, it continued.
“We know that social and health care inequities affect outcomes, and that becomes even more apparent in times of disaster,” said Jill Hunsaker-Ryan, executive director of the department. “There have been generations of institutionalized barriers to things like preventive medical care, healthy food, safe and stable housing, quality education, reliable transportation and clean air. Research shows that these types of factors are the most predictive of health outcomes.
“There is much to be learned from this disaster, and the uneven effects of COVID-19 on different communities will perhaps be one of the most profound lessons,” Hunsaker-Ryan continued.
As of April 13, Colorado's tally of COVID-19 cases reached nearly 7,700 across 56 counties, with nearly 1,500 hospitalized, about 38,700 people tested and 308 deaths. There have been 72 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities.
Starting April 14, the state health department was to add race and ethnicity data to its daily update of COVID data AT covid19.colorado.gov.
White and Asian Coloradans, and those of multiple races, showed statistically lower rates of COVID-19, according to the data. American Indian and Alaskan natives' rates were not statistically different from their percentage of the state population.
The 5,188 cases with race and ethnicity data reported show the following counts:
• White: 3,064 cases, 59.1 of total
• Hispanic: 1,458 cases, 28.1%
• Black: 363 cases, 7%
• Asian: 116 cases, 2.2%
• Multiple races: 96 cases, 1.9%
• Other: 38 cases, 0.7%
• Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander: 29 cases, 0.6%
• American Indian or Alaskan natives: 24 cases, 0.5%
As a percentage of the Colorado population in general, whites make up 67.8%, Hispanics 21.7%, blacks 3.9%, Asians 3.1%, American Indian or Alaskan natives 0.6%, and native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders 0.1%, according to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data cited in the news release.
Those of multiple races make up 2.7%. Population data do not include the “other” category.
The data also included deaths by race and ethnicity, showing that blacks were similarly overrepresented in the death count, making up 6.8%, or 17 deaths. Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders were overrepresented with 1.6%, or four deaths.
American Indians and native Alaskans were also overrepresented. White Coloradans were slightly overrepresented as well.
Hispanics were underrepresented, as were Asians and those of multiple races.
The data included race and ethnicity data for 249 deaths, representing 81% of all reported COVID-19 deaths in Colorado as of April 13.
The deaths among cases reported with race and ethnicity show the following counts:
• White: 172 deaths, 69.1% of total
• Hispanic: 44 deaths, 17.7%
• Black: 17 deaths, 6.8%
• Asian: seven deaths, 2.8%
• Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander: four deaths, 1.6%
• Multiple races: three deaths, 1.2%
• American Indian or Alaskan natives: two deaths, 0.8%
No deaths were listed under the “other” category.
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