The pandemic is exposing racial disparities like few other events in recent U.S. history — initial data shows COVID-19 is infecting and killing Black people at a far higher rate than any other group. We urgently need to understand why, and philanthropy can play a leading role.
We don’t know the full extent of what’s happening because we don’t have enough data on racial demographics of who is tested, infected, hospitalized and dying during this global pandemic. What we do know is sobering. In Chicago, for example, Black people represent 57 percent of all COVID-19 deaths — more than three times higher than any other racial demographic — even though they are only 30 percent of the city’s population. Recently, members of Congress introduced legislation that would require the federal government to post daily updates showing coronavirus testing, treatment and fatality data disaggregated by race, socioeconomic status, and other demographics. But government responses can move slowly, if at all. Foundations and nonprofits can and should help start the process by investing in data collection and analysis.
Today, Marguerite Casey Foundation is awarding $300,000 to The Antiracist Research & Policy Center to lead the work. The grant will help launch The COVID Racial Tracking Project, which will collect, publish, and analyze the most complete set of racial data available on COVID-19 in the U.S. The project aims to begin filling the gaping holes in racial data by the end of April. We need to start this work immediately to address, treat and contain COVID-19, Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center, wrote in The Atlantic. The stakes are far higher than even this deadly pandemic, which has already killed more than 54,000 people in the U.S. Collecting and analyzing comprehensive data on these disparities, including COVID-19, are critical steps in addressing structural racism in America’s health care systems.
“If we can’t see racial disparities, then we can’t see the racist policies behind any disparities and deaths. If we can’t see racist policies, we can’t eliminate racist policies, or replace them with anti-racist policies that protect equity and life,” Kendi wrote.
This data challenge extends beyond Black communities. Immigrant families, low-wage workers, people with disabilities and other communities are all potentially more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the general population. We need to know a lot more and quickly because this data is critical to stopping the spread of the pandemic and addressing underlying systemic racism that has driven health inequity in this country for generations. All families deserve protection during this pandemic and equity in health care systems.
“Collecting, analyzing, and presenting the most complete and comprehensive COVID-19 data on race available in the United States would not have been possible without the generous support of the Marguerite Casey Foundation. In collaboration with The COVID Tracking Project, information gathered as part of our COVID Racial Data Tracker will help to inform the establishment of antiracist public health policies and priorities during this pandemic and beyond. We’re thrilled to be working with a foundation partner that supports antiracist principles in action,” Kendi said.
It is past time for foundations to support comprehensive and equitable data that can drive policies to address structural racism. We need this data now, and it goes beyond COVID-19. It’s about the need to end racist policies in this country once and for all.