Seven months into the pandemic and one trend remains unchanged: COVID-19 is affecting Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color at disproportionately high rates in the United States. Nationwide, in cases where race is known, infection rates among people of color are 2.5 times higher and deaths are 1.7 times higher than in white people.
The current state of the data
We are now collecting data twice a week from 52 jurisdictions (50 states, Guam, and the District of Columbia, which we classify as a state for our purposes) that report race and ethnicity for some COVID-19 cases and from 49 jurisdictions that report race and ethnicity for some COVID-19 deaths, up from 43 jurisdictions back in June. But many of the states and territories we track still don’t provide complete and consistent demographic data showing how COVID-19 is affecting their residents. Even though more states and territories now report some demographic data, we’re still missing race and ethnicity data for 40 percent of all COVID-19 cases from the jurisdictions we track.
While more states are reporting race and ethnicity data, the inconsistencies in how they are reporting also remains an impediment to having a complete understanding of national COVID-19 outcomes. Utah and Wyoming, for instance, count people in every demographic category they fall under, which causes some people to be counted more than once. Based on the figures, Utah is reporting race for 112 percent of cases.
Thirteen states report some of their data as a percentage, so we lose detailed information due to rounding. Twenty-one states report Hispanic or Latino as a race category, 25 report Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, and three report cross-tabulated race and ethnicity.
Where the data is missing
New York still fails to report race and ethnicity data for all of their COVID-19 cases. Texas reports race and ethnicity data for only seven percent of their cases. These major omissions, along with missing reporting from many other states and territories, mean that we have race and ethnicity data for only two out of every five COVID-19 cases in the United States.
The reality is, all states are missing at least some of their race and ethnicity data, even though public pressure to report this data has grown in recent months. Including those places that don’t report any demographic data, 28 states are missing race and ethnicity for at least 20 percent of their reported cases. Five states are missing it for at least 20 percent of their reported deaths. This means that we are not getting a complete picture of which people are getting COVID-19—or of who is dying.
COVID-19 Rate of Infection for Communities of Color, Compared to the Overall State Population
Here’s what it looks like on a national level
In the demographic data that is reported, there are both state-specific disparities and national trends showing how unequally COVID-19 is affecting communities of color. In 21 states, the rate of reported cases for Latinx people is more than twice what it is for each state as a whole; in Iowa, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, it is more than four and a half times the case rate for all cases with known ethnicity. In 17 states, the case rate for Black or African-American people is reported to be more than twice the rate for the cases with known race overall.
New Mexico reports that American Indians or Alaska Natives are more than three times as likely to test positive for COVID-19 and nearly six times as likely to die than the general population.
Arkansas is reporting that nearly one in four Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders have tested positive for COVID-19. One in every 55 people have tested positive in the state overall.
In South Dakota, Asian people are nearly five times as likely to have tested positive for COVID-19 as the population overall.
The data is improving, but remains far from complete
Two months ago, we released a set of requests to states and territories for the absolute minimum data on race and ethnicity required for ongoing analysis. Ten states currently report race and ethnicity for the standard categories used in the Census and included in HHS guidance from earlier this summer.
We continue to advocate for all 56 states and territories we track to include the following demographic data and metadata in their public COVID-19 data reporting:
Race and ethnicity and age data for COVID-19 tests, cases, deaths, and hospitalizations.
Calculations of how many cases and fatalities are missing race and ethnicity data.
Reducing or eliminating cases and deaths with race and ethnicity listed as “unknown.”
Use OMB race categories which are consistent with the 2020 Census and HHS reporting guidelines to enable comparison across states and the development of national statistics.
In the coming weeks we will be releasing an in-depth analysis of the state of COVID-19 race and ethnicity data in the US. We will also be releasing a playbook for data standards that we hope will become a widely used resource for consistent, transparent, and complete COVID-19 data.
Contact your state government to advocate for more and better data about COVID-19, stay tuned for updates, and join our email list for weekly updates.
Alice Goldfarb leads The COVID Tracking Project’s part in The COVID Racial Data Tracker, and is a Nieman Visiting Fellow.
Jessica Malaty Rivera has an MS in Emerging Infectious Diseases and is the Science Communication Lead at The COVID Tracking Project.
More “Race and COVID” posts
Early COVID-19 Race Data Shows Disproportionate Loss of Black Lives—It's Time for States to Release the Rest of the Data
We're still missing vital race and ethnicity data, but where the data is strongest—official COVID-19 death rates—the toll of longstanding public health inequities within Black communities is painfully clear. Five months into the US outbreak, several states are still not collecting or releasing complete demographic data required to address these disparities and safely re-open state economies. It's time for this to change.
Why Some States Won’t Share Race and Ethnicity Data on Vaccinations with the CDC—and Why That’s a Problem
We sent requests for data-use agreements to 56 states and territories to learn what vaccination data was being shared with the federal government. We found that several states—including California and Texas—aren’t sharing race and ethnicity data on vaccinations with the CDC, citing patient privacy laws. In better news, most states are.
Federal COVID Data 101: What We Know About Race and Ethnicity Data
Publicly available federal race and ethnicity COVID-19 data is currently usable and improving, although it shares many of the problems we’ve found in state-reported data.