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Baltimore City Council Goes Virtual — And Asks Health Dept. To Release Race Data For COVID-19 Cases

AP/Patrick Semansky

  The Baltimore City Council held its first ever virtual meeting Monday evening, convened over a video conferencing website as the novel coronavirus pandemic worsens and gatherings of 10 or more are banned.

The pandemic was the subject of discussion and legislation, including a bill that would require the Baltimore City health commissioner to report patients’ races and ZIP codes -- data that has not been publicly available in the state of Maryland.

City Council President Brandon Scott says his data reporting ordinance aims to ensure that the city’s pandemic-related resources are being disbursed to the vulnerable communities that need them. 

“It is irresponsible for any government entity to not understand how this is going to impact its residents of all kinds of data, especially in Baltimore, a city where we are now telling everyone that equity and racial equity is a law of the land,” Scott said.

Scott’s bill echoes the calls of more than 80 members of the Maryland House of Delegates, who  signed a letter written by Del. Nick Mosby, a Baltimore Demorat, last week asking the Maryland Department of Health to make race and other demographic COVID-19 data publicly available. 

Other cities have released similar data sets, including the District of Columbia -- where black residents are disproportionately represented among people who have died from COVID-19. In Chicago, a city where black people make up about 30 percent of the population, 70 percent of residents who have died from COVID-19 are black. 

Research from Johns Hopkins University shows that black people are twice as likely as other groups to live in areas with low access to healthcare. Black people in the U.S. are also more likely to have diabetes and asthma — two health conditions that increase the likelihood of complications from COVID-19.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.