Blacks account for high share of Boston COVID-19 cases

Walsh vows to focus efforts on communities hardest hit

AGAINST A BACKDROP of growing concern that coronavirus is disproportionately burdening minority populations, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh released the first set of city data on COVID-19 victims broken down by race and ethnicity, and black Bostonians appear to account for an outsized share of cases.

Data are available on race or ethnicity for 65 percent of the confirmed cases in Boston, or 2,945 of the 4,528 city residents with COVID-19, according to numbers released by the city. Of those, blacks account for 41 percent of cases, or 1,221 people, whites accounting for 27 percent, or 809 cases, Hispanics 16 percent, or 485 cases, Asians/Pacific Islanders 4 percent, or 108 cases, and 11 percent, or 322 cases, were of other backgrounds.

Of the 105 COVID-19 deaths recorded so far in Boston, race and ethnicity demographics are available for 75 percent. Of those 79 deaths, 37 percent were white, 28 percent were black, 14 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander, 13 percent were Latino, and 9 percent were other. The city does not have race or ethnicity data for 25 percent, or 26, of the 105 total deaths.

“More and more, the data shows us who is being hit the hardest and who needs the most help,” Walsh said at a briefing in front of City Hall. “All across the country the coronavirus is shining a light on long standing health inequities.”

Walsh said the city would continue to compile and share race and ethnicity data on COVID-19 case.

According to the most recent Census estimate, whites make up 53 percent of the city population, blacks represent 25 percent, Hispanics 20 percent, and Asians 10 percent.

Asians and blacks appear to be overrepresented in COVID-19 fatalities relative to their share of city populations, while only blacks are disproportionately represented among all confirmed cases for which race or ethnicity is known. Coronavirus cases among blacks are more than 50 percent higher than their share of the city population.

Data previously released by the city’s Public Health Commission on coronavirus cases by neighborhood showed the highest rates in Hyde Park, Mattapan, parts of Dorchester, and East Boston — all areas with large black and Hispanic populations.

“Without question it’s similar to so many other public health challenges we see, where blacks are disproportionately impacted,” said Marty Martinez, the city’s chief of health and human services.

One reason for that, he said, may be that blacks are disproportionately represented among those deemed to be providing “essential” services, including those working in health care settings, grocery stores, or sanitizing facilities — all jobs that make “social distancing” impossible and, in the case of health care, may be subjecting them to particularly high risk of exposure to coronavirus.

Martinez also said decades of well-founded mistrust by blacks of health care authorities may make them less likely to “trust the messenger” when it comes to warnings about the dangers of the virus and measures to avoid becoming infected.

The figures show a relatively low prevalence of reported cases and death among Latinos. Martinez pointed to reports from frontline providers that Latinos account for a large share of severely ill COVID-19 patients at Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Medical Center and speculated that they may be undercounted in the current city data, with race and ethnicity not known for roughly one-third of cases.

Walsh said testing access is being increased at sites across the city, including the Whittier Health Center in Roxbury, the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, a Brigham and Women’s Hospital clinic in Hyde Park, and in East Boston.

He and Martinez both a COVID-19 Health Inequities Task Force launched by the city would continue to work on ways to respond to the higher rates of coronavirus in predominantly minority neighborhoods.