Updated at 1:45 p.m. ET
In New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S., no ethnic group has been harder hit by the deadly disease it causes than the Latinx community. Mayor Bill de Blasio laid out the preliminary data during a briefing Wednesday, offering one of the first detailed glimpses yet into the breakdown of patients’ race and ethnicity.
Citing data from New York City’s health department, de Blasio said Latinos — who make up about 29% of the city’s population — represent nearly 34% of the patients who had died of COVID-19 as of Monday. And almost 28% of the city’s 2,472 known deaths were among black people, who represent about 24% of the population.
Meanwhile, the numbers reflected a disproportionately lower impact among white people — about 32% of the city’s population and 27% of its COVID-19 deaths — and Asian people, who represent nearly 14% of the population and about 7% of its deaths.
During the news conference Wednesday, the mayor pointed to these disparate numbers as an indication of persistent economic disparity, first and foremost.
“There’s still a reality that folks with more resources get more health care,” he said. “There are a lot of people — particularly seniors in communities of color — that were more vulnerable because their conditions had not been treated the way they could have and should have, if the resources had been given to them that they deserved.”
De Blasio added that language barriers have meant that “some people they’re not getting as much of information as they need” from city authorities.
Dr. Oxiris Barbot, commissioner of the city’s health department, noted one further point: Concerns about their immigration status, or that of their family members, may be contributing to certain Latinos’ hesitance to seek care.
“Even though we have made lots of efforts to reassure people that all of our public hospitals see individuals independent of their immigration status,” she said, “the overlay of the anti-immigrant rhetoric across this country, I think, has real implications in the health of our community.”
In releasing the preliminary data, the city’s health authorities cautioned that the numbers did not include information about people who identify as American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.
There are other gaps in the data. “The vast majority of cases are reported by labs,” the health department cautioned, “and race/ethnicity information is often missing because it is not received on the test requisitions from providers.” There is no race or ethnicity information for 37% of the deaths.
In these racial and ethnic disparities, New York City is not alone. It has become clear that its deadly impact has hit certain groups much harder than others throughout the country.
In Chicago, data analyzed by member station WBEZ showed that as of Saturday, black people made up 70% of the city’s recorded deaths, while black residents there make up less than 30% of its population. African American residents in Louisiana also represented “slightly more than 70% of deaths” across the state, its governor, John Bel Edwards, said on Monday.
One possible reason why may be found in data released last fall by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics: A significantly smaller percentage of Latino and black workers reported enjoying the flexibility to work remotely than their white and Asian counterparts in 2017-18.
And less remote flexibility means more chance of exposure.
“There are more public workers, Latino and African-American, who don’t have a choice, frankly, but to go out there every day and drive the bus and drive the train and show up for work — and wind up subjecting themselves to, in this case, the virus,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday, “whereas many other people who had the option just absented themselves.”
Cuomo, who previously described the virus as “the great equalizer,” told a news conference that to get to the roots of these disparities, officials have “got to do more testing in minority communities, but not just testing for the virus.”
“Let’s actually get research and data that can inform us as to why are we having more people in minority communities, more people in certain neighborhoods — why do they have rate higher rates of infection?”