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COVID-19 racial disparities are high, but not as pronounced locally 

click to enlarge A screenshot of Mayor Lovely Warren's news conference held via Zoom on Wednesday, April 8.

A screenshot of Mayor Lovely Warren's news conference held via Zoom on Wednesday, April 8.

People of color are disproportionately represented among people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Monroe County, according to county Health Department data released Wednesday.

The disparity is not as pronounced as that being reported in other parts of the state and country, but the gap widens significantly among patients in intensive care, particularly African Americans.

Of the 86 people in Monroe County being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals, 51 percent were white, 28 percent were African American, 19 percent were Hispanic, and 2 percent were Asian, according to the data.

But of the 39 of those people in the ICU, nearly 54 percent were African American. About 39 percent of those patients were white, 5 percent were Hispanic, and 3 percent were Asian.

The racial makeup of Monroe County, according to recent census data, is 70 percent white, 14 percent African American, 9 percent Hispanic, and 4 percent Asian. 

Among the 34 people who have died of the virus in the county, the demographic breakdown hewed closely to the general population. Seventy percent of the deaths were white patients, 18 percent were African American, 9 percent were Hispanic, and 3 percent were Asian.

Reporters had been asking county officials for days to reveal specific demographic information about COVID-19 cases, of which there were 627 in the county as of Wednesday afternoon, as reports from elsewhere in the country revealed wide disparities among races.

The data that was released did not cover all 627 people who have contracted COVID-19 in the county, but rather only those who have either died or been hospitalized.

County Communications Director Julie Philipp explained that data on race was not always gathered by individual labs at the point of testing. She added, however, that county health officials were working on tracking down that data for every individual tested, whether their results were positive or negative.

The data was released as reports out of New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, revealed huge disparities in infection rates in people of color. Black and Latino people there are about twice as likely to die of the virus as white people, according to data released by the city.

Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, said the disparities reflected economic inequality and differences in access to health care.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren addressed the matter in a news conference moments before the local data was revealed.

The mayor cast the cases among black and brown people as being disproportionately high, but only slightly. She warned, however, that if residents do not comply with physical distancing recommendations, the numbers will spike.

“We are not seeing at a high rate that level of disparity right now,” Warren said. “We do believe if we do not change the social distancing, if we do not stay to home, we will see the disparity levels we see across the country.”

Warren revealed that an uncle of hers who lives in New York City died of the disease.

She said her administration would utilize every method at its disposal to urge residents in communities of color locally to comply with physical distancing recommendations.

“It is our responsibility to save each other in this situation,” Warren said, “and that message needs to be clearly delivered by trusted ambassadors by any means we have.”

Jerome Underwood, the chief executive officer of Action for a Better Community, called it "frustrating" that some people in communities of color might not be practicing proper physical distancing.

At the same time, he wondered whether health care organizations in the city whose clientele is primarily people of color have the resources to test for COVID-19 at the same rate as health providers in the suburbs.

"We know the disparities exist, so long before now we should have been acting deliberately to counteract the disparities," Underwood said.

Includes reporting by Brett Dahlberg of WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.
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