Black Coloradans make up an outsized number of coronavirus cases and deaths, according to new data released by the state health department, mirroring a trend emerging across the United States.
African Americans make up about 3.9% of the state’s population, but they account for 7% of the state’s COVID-19 cases and about 6.8% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths, meaning they’re over-represented by 79% and 74% respectively.
The new insights came Monday when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released racial and ethnic data for 5,188—or about two-thirds—of the state’s 7,691 known cases.
Gov. Jared Polis promised Monday to regularly release racial and ethnic data going forward.
"We pushed very hard to get this data from county health, from others," Polis said during a news conference Monday.
While the percentages might change as more ethnic and racial data is collected and published, the pattern is one that’s emerged in other areas, such as Milwaukee, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Hispanic and Latino Coloradans make up about 22% of the population, but 28% of all COVID-19 cases, meaning they’re over-represented in case figures by 30%. But Hispanic and Latino Coloradans don’t have the same outsized COVID-19 death rate that black Coloradans have.
White Coloradans are underrepresented in case counts by about 13%. While they make up about 68% of the population, they only account for 59% of all cases.
When Polis was asked the reason for the disparities among races, he said, "That I would have to leave to scientists and those who study this data."
He speculated the data "could be a proxy for economic disparity, it could be a proxy for health; there is a number of things it could be a proxy for as to why it is disproportionately attacking communities of color."
He mentioned that preexisting conditions such as heart disease and diabetes disproportionately affect people of color, and the virus is harder on people with those preexisting conditions.
Asked what he might do to address the higher rates among Hispanics and blacks, Polis said "People live in integrated communities. You can't say we're stopping it for Hispanics but not for white people or blacks. The reason to stay at home is for everybody."
Somewhat more granular data from Denver’s suburbs show the same pattern.
Numbers released by the Tri-County Health Department that serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties on the periphery of the urban core of the Denver metro area, show that African Americans in those counties are being counted as known coronavirus patients at 2.5 times the rate as white Coloradans there.
The same over-representation in case data is true for the Hispanic and Latino residents of those counties, although it’s not as dramatic, with only twice the rate of white Coloradans being counted as coronavirus patients.