State moves to collect race, ethnicity data on COVID-19 cases
As racial disparities in the impact of COVID-19 gain attention nationwide, the First State is moving to collect more information about the racial breakdown of its cases.
In the first month of the U.S. epidemic, African Americans made up a disproportionate percentage of the COVID-19 hospitalizations. In Chicago, black residents have disproportionately died of the virus. In New York City, Latino residents have been hardest hit.
But in Delaware, the race or ethnicity of the more than 1,200 people who have tested positive for the virus is not publicly known.
State public health director Dr. Karyl Rattay said during a press briefing Thursday this lack of data is due to the fact that in close to half of the tests, the ordering health providers did not include information on the race or ethnicity of the patient.
Rattay says starting Thursday, providers ordering COVID-19 tests in Delaware are required to include race and ethnicity on the order form.
"It is critically important to us that we be able to have a good picture of what is happening in our state as it relates to racial differences of COVID-19," said Rattay.
State officials said at Thursday’s briefing of the 19 virus-related deaths announced at that point, three were black Delawareans.
“At this point our data don't mirror what some states are seeing,” Rattay said. “But we certainly have reason to be concerned.”
She noted chronic diseases that increase the risk for serious consequences of COVID-19, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and asthma, tend to be more prevalent among Delaware’s minority populations.
Rattay added state public health officials are aware many people of color live in housing situations “where it can be difficult to social distance,” or work jobs in service industries deemed essential under the State of Emergency.
“Therefore, it is critically important that we keep an eye on our data,” Rattay said. “It's also really important that we do all we can to intervene and reach out now.”
The state’s public health lab has tested over 1,600 individuals, and state officials say hospital-run sites have collected more than 10,000 specimens for testing.