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State Data Says Black Marylanders Disproportionately Affected By COVID-19

Maryland State Department of Health

Black Marylanders are disproportionately represented among confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19, according to state data released Thursday.

Black residents make up just under a third of Maryland’s population, but represent 42.7% of COVID-19 cases and 44% of the deaths from the illness among cases for which race data is known. 

Gov. Larry Hogan said the figures reveal “troubling disparities and points to a persistent public health challenge that we must address.”

The Republican instructed the Maryland Department of Health to release the data on Tuesday.  The records made public Thursday are 75% of confirmed cases, he said. 


“I want to caution that 90% of the testing is being done by doctors and hospitals who are sending tests to private labs outside of the state, which have not been keeping such data,” Hogan said. “We do anticipate having significant gaps in the initial data that will be available to us.”


White people represented 31.9% of confirmed COVID-19 cases among those whose races were known, while 11.8% were Asian or another race.


It’s not just in Maryland: Black people are dying at disproportionate rates across the country, in cities like Washington, D.C., Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee, and in Louisiana and Michigan.. 


In order to understand these staggering statistics, one must look at the systemic societal issues that black Americans, regardless of income face, said Nikole Hannah-Jones. 


Black Americans “are also the most uninsured group in the country,” said Hannah-Jones, an award-winning investigative reporter at the New York Times Magazine and the creator of the 1619 Project, who appeared on WYPR's Midday program on Thursday. “They are not able to get the health care to deal with the underlying conditions that makes this virus so deadly, and also cannot get to the doctor until they are much more gravely ill with the virus.”


Black Americans are also more likely than Americans of other races to have underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 complications, includingdiabetes and asthma. They are twice as likely as other groups to live in areas with low access to healthcare, according to Research from Johns Hopkins University.


Much of that is tied to things like stress and nutrition.


“We should not talk about this as merely being about poverty,” Hannah-Jones said. “Middle class, black Americans are living in resource-deprived. high-poverty neighborhoods at a higher rate than even poor white Americans. So what that means for them is that they are living in places of high stress.”

Moving forward, Hannah-Jones said, governments need to know which communities are the most harmed by the virus. 


“It is really critical to have that information so that those who need it the most are being served,” she said.


Hannah-Jones’ comments echo a letter written by Del. Nick Mosby earlier this month and signed by more than 80 state legislators. It asked Hogan to release COVID-19 data that includes zip codes.


Mosby, a Democrat, said releasing race data is simply not enough.


Zip code data will “ensure that we are developing the most effective and efficient and equitable plans of engaging communities, testing communities, as well as the ultimate treatment and resources,” Mosby said.


Otherwise, throwing resources around without any specific target areas or neighborhoods may miss virus hotspots, he said.


On Thursday afternoon, Baltimore City Mayor Jack Young said the city would begin to release ZIP code data through a new website dashboard. The city will also work with the state to release race data specific to Baltimore,  the Democrat said.


The largest concentration of cases are in the 21215 zip code in the northwest corner of the city, “which is why we decided to open our first community test site at Pimlico, in the heart of that neighborhood,” Young said. 


The Pimlico Race Course will open as a referral-only test site Friday morning. It will serve up to 50 people a day, Young said earlier this week. 


The 21215 zip code includes the neighborhoods of Park Heights, Cold Spring and Ashburton and had 64 confirmed cases as of Thursday. The area has a median household income of $34,471. Its residents, 80% of whom are black, face housing challenges, higher rates of crime and a lack of access to public transit, according to the Baltimore Equity Map, a collaboration between the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Community Development Clinic and Morgan State University’s Department of Public Health Community Need and Solutions Course.


“It is really important for us to ensure from a testing and treatment perspective that we are going after those communities at a very high level to literally try to flatten the curve,” Mosby said.


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