Courtesy of UConn Health

HARTFORD, CT — For the first time last week the state of Connecticut began reporting the race and ethnicity of COVID-19 positive patients and by Wednesday, a team at the University of Connecticut found Blacks have a higher rate of infection and death.

The team led by Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, former dean of the UConn School of Medicine, analyzed and reviewed the Department of Public Health’s data on COVID-19 outcomes and found that Blacks have a higher rate of infection and death in comparison to the percentage of the population they represent in the state.

However, the information collected on race and ethnicity is incomplete.

“The scarcity of this information generates a more substantial concern in which insufficiently identifying the affected may ultimately result in historically marginalized groups shouldering the greatest burden of disease and disproportionately bearing the social impact,” Laurencin and his team wrote in their paper.

The data Laurencin and his team reviewed as of April 1 included a total of 3,141 cases. However, data on race and ethnicity was missing on over 50% of the COVID-19 laboratory case reports received by DPH.

Of the cases with racial information provided, the confirmed cases are 60.8% White, 17.2% Black, 2.9% Asian, 15.9% Hispanic, 0.2% American Indian/Alaska Native, and 2.9% other. Of 96 deaths reported at the time of the review, 69 or 76.7% were White, 13 or 14.4% were Black, 6 or 6.7% were Hispanic, and 2 or 2.2% were Asian.

According to the U.S. Census, Connecticut’s total population is 66.5% White, 12% Black, 4.9% Asian, and 16.5% Hispanic.

That means with the limited information the state has been reporting, “Blacks have a higher rate of infection and death in comparison to their population percentage in the state of Connecticut,” the study concluded.

It’s a conclusion several other states have reached, too.

In Michigan, African Americans make up 14% of the state’s population but accounted for 33% of the COVID-19 cases and 41% of deaths as of Monday.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont acknowledged the trend.

He attributed the higher percentage of people infected in urban communities where minorities are concentrated in part to their employment. “Folks in these underserved communities are going to be less likely to telecommute.”

He said nurses, daycare providers, and other frontline workers are more likely to be infected and they’re more likely to be Black and Hispanic.

“Many have bigger families and are living in small apartments, so it’s tough to social distance,” Lamont said. “We are working on that by making sure we provide additional space, hotel space for folks in that situation.”

He said, “Folks in the Black and Hispanic communities are much more likely, I’m afraid to say, to have pre-exisitng conditions. African Americans are four times more likely to contract asthma or diabetes than their white counterpart and similar numbers for Hispanics.”

Wizdom Powell, director of the Health Disparities Institute at UConn Health, said Wednesday in a phone interview that in order to address health disparities they have to address the inequities that already exist in the healthcare system.  .

“We can only imagine that a pandemic will exacerbate these disparities,” Powell said.

She said it’s important to collect the data because essentially, “what gets measured gets done.”

Some states that have been at the epicenter of the pandemic like New York and California have not released data on race or ethnicity.

Powell said when Connecticut starts making decisions about allowing the labor force to continue producing, it needs to keep the most vulnerable in mind and often that’s not the case.