The Need for COVID-19 Rates by Race/Ethnicity
May 11, 2020
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.
The data in the following graphs represent rates of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths by race/ethnicity for each group that the data are collected for. Data used to calculate rates are publicly available from the Florida Department of Health County and State Reports which are published daily, and the Census QuickFacts 2019 Population Estimates published by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Florida Department of Health categorizes race as Black, White and Other. Rates for Hispanic ethnicity are combined across all racial groups in these graphs. All rate ratios are calculated with White as the reference group.
Dashboard Data Sources:
- U.S. Census Bureau, Pinellas County Quick Facts. (Accessed 4/20/20)
- U.S. Census Bureau, Hillsborough County Quick Facts. (Accessed 4/20/20)
- Florida Department of Health. 2019 Novel Coronavirus Response (COVID-19) (Accessed 5/4/20)