Study after study continues to unearth racial disparities in the pandemic. While Congress and industry groups have pushed for more complete collection of data to help address the unfolding crisis, complete data are still lacking.
An NPR analysis of COVID-19 tracking data showed that across the country, African Americans are dying from the disease at nearly two times the rate that would be expected based on their representation in the larger population. An analysis by The Washington Post found that people in counties with higher-than-average black populations are three times as likely to die of COVID-19 as Americans in counties with higher-than-average white populations.
As part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, Congress required the CDC to report racial demographic breakdowns of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. According to the CDC COVID-19 data as of June 3, racial breakdowns were available for only 42.3% of the more than 1.4 million people on whom data were collected.
A coalition of the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Hispanic Medical Association and other groups urged HHS to pursue a deep data collection effort and make analysis of such data publicly accessible.
“While COVID-19 has not created the circumstances that have brought about health inequities, it has and will continue to severely exacerbate existing and alarming social inequities along racial and ethnic lines, e.g., in housing stability, in employment status, in healthcare access, and in food security,” the group wrote in April. “Without such granularity, clinical providers, researchers, and policymakers risk misunderstanding the unique characteristics that impact health behaviors, beliefs, usage of medical spaces, and other factors distinctly impacting health outcomes.”
Providers, payers and policymakers can use the data for proactive outreach to be sure chronic conditions are not ignored in vulnerable populations, to target interventions and to develop COVID-19 plans that reflect how the community lives and works.
For example, insights from demographic data could inform better testing strategies. In neighborhoods that are home to people who may not have cars, drive-through testing sites may lead to cases in those populations being missed.
Previous HRI research has highlighted the importance of convening a coalition of providers, payers, faith-based groups, community organizations and employers in an area to address underlying social and economic factors that affect health.
Successful efforts reflect the community, involving trusted community partners who have the credibility to communicate steps that people can take to protect themselves, such as mask-wearing and social distancing. Data modeling can help healthcare and community organizations pinpoint efforts to keep vulnerable populations healthier and reveal necessary services that can improve outreach, such as translators, housing support or food services.
With much unknown about future waves of COVID-19, the threat of continued spread to underserved communities places even more urgency on the need for healthcare organizations to develop immediate and long-term strategies.