COVID-19 pandemic data reveal racial divide in “healthiest” state
In Colorado and across the country, communities of color are disproportionately contracting and dying from COVID-19. African Americans represent more than 70 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in communities such as Chicago, Milwaukee and Louisiana, and represented all of the COVID-19 deaths in St. Louis as of April 9. As it stands, many of our Colorado neighbors cannot truly achieve health; living a healthy life is more easily accessible for some people than it is for others due to infrastructure and policies that don’t account for our nation’s diverse population, and because of longstanding, historical barriers to health.
Unfair barriers to economic security mean that people of color are more likely to have low incomes and less access to quality health care. People of color across the country, including those in Colorado, are more likely to be exposed to the virus, more likely to receive bills for care they cannot afford, less likely to have paid leave and more likely to lose their jobs as a result of the economic crisis COVID-19 has caused.
Though it is frequently named one of the healthiest states in the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that, as is the case nationwide, the burden of the disease is greater in some Colorado communities than others. This week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released all available race and ethnicity data on reported cases of COVID-19. The data show that COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Coloradans who are Black/African American, Hispanic and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. The shares of COVID-19 cases are disproportionately high for these groups when compared to their overall population. COVID-19 data disaggregated by race/ethnicity is now updated daily on Colorado’s main page of COVID-19 case data.
Yesterday, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and many other partners signed onto a Colorado People’s Alliance letter to Gov. Polis asking that the state respond to the pandemic with an equity lens. The letter asks the state to collect and report additional demographic data on coronavirus cases, create a statewide hotline for workers, create a statewide hotline to report discrimination in health care settings, establish a cash assistance fund for those with an ITIN number, without consideration of a person’s immigration status and to create a pandemic equity response team.
National COVID-19 demographic data are not currently reported yet are badly needed to help policymakers and practitioners best understand and respond to the pandemic. On March 27, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Robin Kelly sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asking the CDC to collect and publicly report demographic COVID-19 information so that the pandemic response can address disparities in health outcomes, ensure equitable resource distribution and have the information necessary to control and prevent future outbreaks in the communities hardest hit by the virus. The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights has since sent a similar letter asking for the public release of the data.
Even if every person who lived in Colorado had access to health care today, it wouldn’t mean that every Coloradan was healthy. Health care is one important element of a bigger picture. Health is a holistic measure that can only be achieved when programs, policies and infrastructure work together to provide resources, support and access. We know that throughout our nation’s history, policies, institutions and organizations have created systems in which the resources needed to be healthy and opportunities for health are inequitably distributed. These inequities have a greater influence on health outcomes than either individual choices or the provision of health care. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that much work is left to do to combat health inequities in Colorado. Federal, state and local policymakers must do more for people who are being hardest hit so everyone gets a fair shot at coming through this crisis healthy and whole. At the community and state level, Coloradans need to work together to identify and eliminate the practices that keep people of color and low-income communities from achieving health.