Vermont Is Now Publicly Releasing Race Data for COVID-19 Cases | Off Message

Vermont Is Now Publicly Releasing Race Data for COVID-19 Cases


The Vermont Department of Health has begun reporting race data for COVID-19 cases, in addition to gender and age breakdowns.

As part of Friday's daily update, the department added race and ethnicity metrics to its data dashboard. The state has reported 779 total positive cases, up nine from Thursday out of 609 new tests.

Of the total cases for which the state identified a person's race, 682, or 95 percent, were white.
Extensive reporting nationwide has found that the coronavirus has had an outsized impacted on communities of color. But that reporting has been stymied by the various procedures different state, county and municipal health departments use to document cases, and many are not reporting any race data at all.

In Vermont, Health Commissioner Mark Levine recently told that he didn't realize until early April that the state wasn't consistently collecting race and ethnicity data.

At the end of March, the department was missing race and ethnicity data for 73 percent of the patients who had tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Friday press release from the Department of Health.

State epidemiologists worked with Vermont Information Technology Leaders, a nonprofit that coordinates electronic medical records across health care organizations and providers in the state, to cross-reference confirmed cases with race data to fill in the blanks on hundreds of patients.

The Department of Health said in the release that it was "able to partner with VITL through a state directive issued in response to the State of Emergency."

The state is now reporting race data for the majority of cases identified to date, though it's still missing data for 8 percent of the total, or 61 cases. Five of those are for cases reported within the past week.

The state had been releasing age and sex information about positive COVID-19 cases for several weeks now. The age range with the most identified cases so far, with more than 20 percent, is 50 to 59 years old. That age group is also one of the most populous in the state.
Adjusting those numbers by population in each age range tells a different story about the rates at which different groups are being diagnosed with COVID-19.

For every 100,000 people over the age of 80 in Vermont, 285 have been diagnosed with COVID-19. By contrast, 178 in every 100,000 people between the ages of 50 and 59 have the coronavirus.
There aren't actually 100,000 people over the age of 80 in Vermont — there are only 26,291, according to 2018 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. But adjusting the comparison to 100,000 people results in a number that isn't a tiny decimal.

The state's case count is likely an underrepresentation of total infections. Though Vermont has dramatically upped its capacity for testing in recent weeks, the state was only testing those with severe symptoms or known contact with a COVID-19 patient for most of March.

Early evidence from other countries suggests that some 80 percent of cases are relatively mild. The CDC is now trying to estimate how many of those mild cases have gone undetected.

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