By Dr. Stephanie Reed
Since the beginning of the COVID crisis, cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been reported as raw numbers and proportions. What has been missing from the data are rates. Rates indicate the impact of a condition or disease standardized against the population of a group. For example, if 10 out of 100 positive cases of a disease are African-American, they represent 10% of all cases. Likewise, if 10 out of 100 positive cases are White, they also represent 10% of all cases. However, if there are 100,000 residents in the city, with African-Americans representing 15% of the total population and Whites representing 80% of the population, the African-American case rate would be 66.67 cases per 100,000 population of African-Americans, compared to a case rate of 12.5 per 100,000 of the population for Whites. Rates provide a way to clearly see how deeply a community or group is impacted.
It is true that it is difficult to calculate an accurate rate when cases are few, but as we see the increasingly devastating impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, it becomes time to quantify its impact in terms of rates, stratified by race and ethnicity. We have been able to calculate rates by age groups and have issued stark warnings to the elderly about their risk. Race and racism have deep roots in the fabric of this country, with racial and ethnic disparities showing up across a wide spectrum of outcomes, including education, justice and health outcomes.
The time to solve inequities is not during a crisis. The crisis has served to immensely magnify the inequities that were already in existence. What we should take time to do now is study how communities are disproportionately impacted and use the data to determine where marketing, and testing health care resources should be deployed to effectively mitigate the impact on these communities. It is clear that the virus is differentially impacting communities of color across the country, and indeed around the world in terms of cases and deaths. We can not become complacent and think that because we haven’t seen the same trend in local data that it doesn’t exist here. The fact that it DOES exist elsewhere and COULD exist here should propel us to want to reach out to those who are more vulnerable and provide the best level of care to reduce the risk for the entire population. The care and concern we demonstrate toward the most vulnerable is indicative of our desire to protect the entire population, for we are all inextricably linked.
For the most recent data on the differential impact of COVID crisis on communities of color, please visit the UNITE Pinellas COVID tracker.
Dr. Stephanie Reed is the Section Manager of the Planning and Quality Assurance team at Pinellas County Human Services. Dr. Reed holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in Maternal and Child Health and a Master of Public Health from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.