Virginia governor seeks more data on how COVID-19 affects minorities

Part of trying to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus includes understanding who is most at risk.

That’s why Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is seeking more data on how COVID-19 is affecting minorities.

Although the Virginia Department of Health is one from approximately a dozen states — including Maryland and the District of Columbia — to compile cases by race, in more than half of 3.645 positive cases, race is listed as “not reported.”

“We do not have race and ethnicity data on 53% of the incident cases in the state,” said Virginia Health Commissioner Norman Oliver, appearing with Northam during a Wednesday briefing.

While increased risk to older patients has been well-documented since the arrival of coronavirus, Northam said racial information has been more difficult to obtain.

He echoed Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, in noting much of the recent testing is being done by doctors and hospitals, which are sending tests to labs outside the state.

“It is difficult, but important for everyone to be reporting the same types of data, so we have a better picture of what this virus looks like, here in Virginia,” Northam said.

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“We know that long-standing racial inequities in things like access to health care, education, and economic opportunities lead to differences in underlying health conditions. The existence of such inequities is one reason why communities of color, including African American people, are more likely to have some of the underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk with COVID-19,” Northam said.

Lack of access to health care contributes “to much higher disease burden, with twice the rate of diabetes, hypertension, obesity,” said Oliver. “These underlying problems then place these folks at higher risk of mortality from COVID-19.”

Other factors also put minorities more at risk for contracting the disease.

“They tend to be concentrated in the essential industries and are working,” said Oliver. “There’s less social distancing in these communities, and less opportunity for teleworking.”

As of Wednesday, in Virginia, positive cases in which race was recorded as white, black or other, 506 cases involved blacks, or 30.4%. Census data says 19.9% of Virginia’s population is black. Whites make up 917 of the state’s cases — 55%.

Virginia’s Department of Health is sending letters to private doctors and hospitals, requesting they provide more complete racial data when sending tests to out-of-state labs.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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