Coronavirus may be disproportionately affecting people of color in some communities, health officials say

Why racial data on virus testing is needed

There are no official statistics that show the coronavirus' toll by demographic, but in some communities the pandemic appears to be disproportionately affecting people of color.

National correspondent Jericka Duncan reports that African Americans have higher rates of the underlying health issues (such as diabetes or asthma) that can lead to death by coronavirus. Because of that, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik, who calls racism a public health issue, is taking the lead by collecting data she says could save lives.

"We're in the middle of a storm right now; we need as much data as possible," said Kowalik, who oversees roughly a million residents in Milwaukee County in Wisconsin. "Right now, we're flying blind."

She said, of the 40 people who have died so far because of the coronavirus in her county, about 80% were black.

Right now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not collecting data on the race of those who have tested positive for, or died from, coronavirus.

When asked why it is important to document the race of those who are infected and dying, Dr. Uché Blackstock, founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity in New York City, replied, "Everyone will be affected by this. But there are some communities and populations that are going to be affected even more significantly.

"The reason why we need to really discuss this issue and to collect the racial and ethnic demographic data on who is tested, who has the disease, and on who's dying from it, [is] so that we can properly allocate healthcare resources equitably to the communities that need it."

Blackstock also works part-time at urgent care facilities in Brooklyn. In the waiting room right now, she said, "We're noticing more black and brown and immigrant patients that are seeking care. And a lot of these patients are essential workers. A lot of them are service workers."

She said COVID-19 testing is still not readily available: "We are instructed that we probably should not test more than one in 10 patients," Blackstock said. "Our criteria is really, we're focusing on the highest-risk patients."

CBS News contributor Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, said, "If we don't have an awareness right now of racial disparities, we can't right now figure out what's causing those racial disparities, what policies, or even lack thereof. Then we can't change it, right now in the moment when people are dying and being infected."

According to a new report from WBEZ Public Radio in Chicago, an analysis of county data shows 70% of people who've died from coronavirus in that city are black.