COVID-19 hits Indiana minorities at higher rate

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The Indiana State Department of Health released statistics Friday that show minorities in the state represent a disproportionate share of COVID-19 patients and deaths.

“18.5% of our cases have been among our African American population compared with nearly 50% among our white population,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box who noted that blacks make up almost ten percent of Indiana’s overall population. “When we look at deaths, we found that a little over 19.2% occurred among our African American population. These disparities among our African American population mirror what we see with other health metrics that we know to be significant risk factors for death with the COVID-19 disease and that is diabetes and heart disease.”

The Centers for Disease Control found that while African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, they constituted one out of every three hospitalized coronavirus patients in March with 90% of all patients suffering from underlying health issues which also included obesity, chronic lung obstruction and high blood pressure.

“There appears to be some racial factors, some ethnicity factors that we need to better understand,” said Dr. Shaun Grannis, Vice President of Data and Analytics at the Regenstrief Institute.  “We are making a very big push right now here in Indiana and all across the country to ask people to please, when testing is done, please add those additional factors like race and ethnicity to help us better understand what’s actually happening and what are the characteristics of the individuals that are coming down with the virus.”

In Indiana, Marion and Hamilton Counties rank first and third in the state for positive tests and deaths from coronavirus.

Of 6907 positive test results reported by ISDH Friday morning, 2600 of those cases were in Marion County and 431 in Hamilton County.

Marion County accounts for 37.6% of the state’s positive cases with less than 14% of Indiana’s population.

“Hamilton County accounts for about five percent of the population,” said Christian Walker, Public Health Preparedness Coordinator for Hamilton County. “Currently our positive account for I believe it is 6.2% of total cases for the state.”

When it comes to COVID-19 deaths, Marion County accounts for 36% of the state’s total, 107 fatalities of the 300 Hoosiers who have died.

Hamilton County has reported 19 deaths, six percent of the state’s total.

Even though Marion and Hamilton Counties share a border, the demographics of the neighboring communities are quite diverse.

  • 87% of Hamilton County’s residents are white in comparison to 64% of those who live in Marion County.
  • 4.2% of Hamilton County’s residents are designated as living in poverty as opposed to 17.2% of Marion County’s population.
  • Just 5.5% of Hamilton County residents lack health insurance as compared to 12% of Marion County dwellers.

“I think that when we look at our population, we have a large number that work in the larger hotspot of Marion County,” said Walker. “The spread we’re seeing is more along the lines of the geographic spread of the county. 51% of the county is suburban and the northern 49% is rural so we are seeing the larger number down in the southern half of the county, but I don’t think we’re seeing anything irregular in any one particular spot or anything like that right now.”

During a daily briefing with Governor Eric Holcomb, Dr. Box explained that collecting data on coronavirus patients has been challenging and 57% of those patients’ reports surveyed did not include any ethnicity information.

Friday was the deadline for long-term and nursing care facilities and state prisons and county jails to report accurate coronavirus case information to state officials within 24 hours and Dr. Box has indicated that the daily fatality total indicates deaths reported to ISDH, not necessarily that the patient died in the preceding 24 hours period.

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