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Data shows black Marylanders disproportionately affected by coronavirus

"Why should they wear a scarlet letter around their chest for the rest of their life," said Del. Nick Mosby, the lead sponsor of the ‘ban the box’ bill in the House of Delegates. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Del. Nick Mosby had been seeking the release of the data for several weeks. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Information released about the race of people affected by COVID-19 demonstrates the extent to which African Americans have been disproportionately affected by the disease and the need to pay attention to racial inequities in health care, officials and experts said Thursday.

Maryland released that data for the first time Thursday, including the racial demographic breakdown about people who have contracted the disease and those who have died. The release came after lawmakers had pushed for the state to include the data in its daily reports.

The information shows that African Americans have been disproportionately affected by the virus, though a significant number of cases did not have race data available Thursday.

“What we take from the numbers is now the rest of the world knows what our reality is every day,” said Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, a Democrat. “If you live in a community that is poor, black, brown or impoverished in America, there is certain health outcomes that you experience every day, and they come not from lack of caring.”

Maryland added 656 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday morning, bringing the state’s total to 6,185. All told, 138 people have died from the disease in Maryland, up 14 from Wednesday’s numbers.

Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and Gov. Larry Hogan at Tuesday's announcement in Landover. (Bryan P. Sears)

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, shown with Gov. Larry Hogan at a 2018 announcement in Landover. (Bryan P. Sears)

The racial data was based on Wednesdays totals, which had 125 deaths and 5,529 cases of infection. The data shows that 44% of people who died were black, 31% were white, 5% were Asian, and 2% were classified as other. For 17% of the deaths, a race was unknown.

In total cases, 37% were black, 27% were white, 2% were Asian and 8% were other. There was no data available in 24% of cases.

About 30% of the state’s population is black.

Del. Nick Mosby, D-Baltimore, had been asking the state to release the data for weeks. Mosby sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan Monday asking for him to release data showing the racial breakdown following reports in other states that African Americans had been disproportionately affected.

Hogan said at a press conference Tuesday that the information would be released.

African Americans have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in two ways. First they are working on the front lines of the response to the disease, working as nurses, janitors, bus drivers and food service workers. That makes them more likely to get the disease.

“Far too many African Americans and Latinos, their jobs don’t allow them to stay home,” said Stephen B. Thomas, director of the Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland, College Park. “They are in the hustle economy. They have to go out to put food on the table for their families.”

African Americans are also disproportionately affected by chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. People with these types of underlying conditions are more likely to be seriously affected by COVID-19.

“When we heard that the aggravating factors for the coronavirus include diabetes, high blood pressure and lung disease and kidney disease, I can tell you that our first reaction was, ‘Oh, my god. That’s us,’” Alsobrooks said. “We knew that it would come to us.”

Mosby does not believe it is enough to just release data along demographic lines. He also wants to see a breakdown of COVID-19 by zip code, something Anne Arundel County has already been doing.

Breaking the information down by zip code will allow the state to better position its resources and see where people may be underserved. It could also help the state and counties direct testing resources to where they are needed, especially as testing capacity grows.

“Without testing, and this is our problem in our country, without testing we are flying blind. Without reporting data by race we are flying colorblind,” Thomas said. “That leads to policies that will exacerbate the already existing problems in our society.”

Thomas, who also serves on the Maryland Health Care Commission and testifies frequently on health inequities in Annapolis, said he will be more forceful in addressing health inequities in the future. 

“This is evidence that you are not hearing me. Now you’re seeing it, and maybe now you are ready to listen,” he said of his new message. “What we are seeing here are the consequences of the deferred maintenance, not only of our public health infrastructure, but the deferred maintenance of addressing the issues of race in America.”

Alsobrooks said Prince George’s County, which is more than 60% black, has had trouble bringing in quality dining and grocery stores, which leads to the health outcomes officials are seeing.

She said she hopes that the business community will remember the support it has gotten throughout the pandemic and bring better restaurants and grocery stores to the county “so that we don’t have those negative health outcomes that you are seeing now that are killing us.”

Daily Record government affairs reporter Bryan P. Sears contributed to this report.

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