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Coronavirus: John Hopkins map ‘shows racial disparities’

The John Hopkins University map of coronavirus cases in the U.S. is specifically designed to show how ethnic minorities have been hardest hit by the pandemic, its creators say.   

Data expert Beth Blauer and others who built the U.S. dashboard told the Washington Post that they included racial statistics from the beginning to see how the crisis would affect different groups. 

Each U.S. county has its own entry on the map which shows its racial demographics and how its death rate compares to the state as a whole. 

Sure enough, scientists found that ethnic minorities were being hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis – with African-Americans accounting for 74 per cent of deaths in Washington DC despite making up only 46 per cent of the population. 

The trend was further confirmed by a survey released earlier this month which found that 11 per cent of black people had a family member or close friend who had died of coronavirus, compared to four per cent of white people. 

Hopkins experts say that racial inequality makes non-white people more vulnerable to the pre-existing conditions that make Covid-19 more dangerous, while people who live in poverty will find social distancing more difficult or impossible.   

The Hopkins map has become a ‘gold standard’ for coronavirus tracking, especially in the U.S. where there are no comprehensive figures supplied by the federal government. 

The website’s creators say they started the project in January when official figures on the outbreak were almost non-existent. 

Ensheng Dong, a Chinese PhD student who had lived through the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, built the first version of the map with his supervisor Lauren Gardner.

Blauer, the head of the university’s Centers for Civic Impact, then set about creating a U.S.-specific version of the map as the outbreak escalated in March. 

Blauer had previously worked on public health data in Baltimore and Annapolis, tracking statistics such as infant mortality and how they were affected by racial inequalities. 

She and her colleagues decided that the U.S. map should include racial demographics and other figures to show how race was affecting the pandemic. 

The U.S. dashboard was set up to compare each county against the state as a whole, to see which parts of a state were being hit the hardest. 

Before long, the figures showed that minority groups and the areas where they lived were being hit the hardest by the coronavirus crisis.  

‘When you actually start looking at the affected populations, the breakdown of race and age and ethnicity and socioeconomic demographics, it becomes so much more human,’ said Gardner. 

Washington DC was one example, but the disparity was also clear in South Dakota, where African-Americans make up only three per cent of the population but accounted for 17 per cent of coronavirus deaths.

In Wisconsin, Milwaukee County has both the highest percentage of African-American residents in the state (26 per cent) and the highest infection rate in Wisconsin (1,183 cases per 100,000 people). 

Similarly, the infection rate in Chicago’s Cook County (1,740 per 100,000) is significantly higher than the figure for Illinois as a whole (1,124). Nearly 24 per cent of Cook County’s population is black, compared to 15 per cent in Illinois as a whole.  

The figures also showed a racial bias affecting Hispanic and Native American communities, researchers say. 

Native Americans accounted for around 18 per cent of deaths in Arizona despite making up only five per cent of the population, the Hopkins statistics show.  

Blauer said she felt resigned and frustrated as she watched the virus devastate black and other minority communities. 

‘If you are born black in this country, it’s harder for you to get a job, harder for you to keep a job and also harder for you to stay alive,’ she said.

The Hopkins data also includes a list of which states have released racial data for cases, deaths and testing rates.   

Only four states – Delaware, Kansas, Illinois and Nevada – have provided data in all three categories, the map shows.  

Hopkins public health professor Lisa Cooper said even the ‘limited sample’ showed that black people and other minorities were being disproportionately hard hit.  

‘There are likely multiple causes for these disparities,’ Cooper writes on the Hopkins website. 

‘Existing racial disparities in the rates of chronic medical conditions increase the risk among ethnic minorities for serious complications of the novel coronavirus and resulting higher death rates. 

‘Additionally, the observed disparities in how the disease affects racial/ethnic minority populations highlight inequities in socio-economic status, living conditions, and access to care in the U.S. 

‘Because many racial and ethnic minority persons live in poverty, they are experiencing this pandemic in a different way. For example, they may rely on public transit if they cannot afford a car, need to shop more frequently for basic necessities since they cannot afford to stockpile goods, and do not have health insurance or access to regular medical care. 

‘Social distancing may not be a convenient or realistic option for many, because they may live in small, multi-family apartments or homes.’

The Hopkins map currently shows more than 2.68million confirmed cases in the United States, with 129,545 deaths. 

Around the world, the Hopkins map shows 10.4million confirmed infections and 509,706 deaths – meaning more than a quarter of all deaths are in the U.S. 

Brazil has the world’s second-worst outbreak with 58,314 deaths from 1.37million confirmed cases.  

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