No breakdown on race in coronavirus data locally Butte County Public Health almost ready with "data dashboard"

posted April 10, 2020

The Butte County Public Health Department won’t attempt a race/ethnic breakdown when it presents a “data dashboard” that will give more information about positive COVID-19 cases, said Lisa Almaguer, public information officer.

Almaguer, a public health spokesperson, said the data dashboard will tell the public more about the coronavirus cases that have been reported in Butte County in terms of patient gender, age range, symptom severity, whether hospitalization has been needed, and in general terms, possible exposure route. In comments to ChicoSol earlier this week, Almaguer said the dashboard will be available to the public in a matter of days.

Asked about data on race or ethnic identity of the patients, Algamuer said, “I definitely don’t think we’d be including that.”

The public health department has so far reported that 13 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

As the EMS story posted April 10 on ChicoSol states, researchers are increasingly concerned with the disproportionate effect of the pandemic nationwide on African American and Latino communities. Tung Nguyen, a physician at the University of California, San Francisco, who is director of the Asian American Research Center on Health, said during an April 8 video conference that he hopes all public health departments will track COVID-19 cases by race and ethnicity.

As a small county with limited resources, Almaguer said Butte County faces considerable challenges in “mining the data.” Labs that are testing for COVID-19 report the results to the state, and locally, public health staffers extract from that data.

“It takes a lot of time, and more time needs to be spent on containment… we have to find a balance with the most critical work,” Almaguer said.

Almaguer said that the local Telemundo-affiliated station helps by translating public health press releases and broadcasting to a Spanish-speaking audience. She said the county department is working with the Hmong Cultural Center to get information on COVID-19 to the Hmong community.

The state’s COVID-19 website, reporting data from just over half of the state, shows that Latinos comprise about 30 percent of cases that have tested positive and Asians make up 13 percent of the state’s cases.

In Butte County, residents identifying as Latino or Asian made up the largest two minority groups in the 2010 census.

The coronavirus mortality rates — which could reflect important disparities — are difficult to interpret because of the limited data set. But several communities of color, including Asians and African Americans, appear to have high mortality rates for their population size.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has indicated he’d like to gather data on race and ethnicity for the entire state. In his April 9 media briefing, he said he wants to provide information on “what we’re doing to actualize strategies and plans to address those disparities, as we must, as a state and as a nation.” — Leslie Layton

This story was updated April 11 to reflect COVID-19 mortality rates reported on the state website. Butte County Public Health has launched its data dashboard here.