People of color, particularly Hispanic or Latinos, appear to be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in King County, according to new but still incomplete data from county health officials.
While about 10% of King County’s population is Hispanic or Latino, Hispanic or Latino people made up 17% of confirmed coronavirus cases in the county in which racial information was known, according to newly released data from Public Health — Seattle & King County.
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander people, who make up .8% of the county’s population, were also overrepresented among confirmed cases with race/ethnicity information, with 1.7% cases. In addition, while about 6.4% of King County’s population is Black, 7.5% of confirmed cases in which racial information is known were Black.
The demographic makeup of those who’ve died from the virus in King County generally tracks with the county’s population, but could be skewed by the fact that most deaths were among people living in long-term care facilities, “where the population distribution by race/ethnicity may not represent the general population,” the county said.
The figures, released Friday evening with significant caveats, offer the first look at racial disparities among local COVID-19 cases, following the release of similar data in other areas of the country showing disproportionate effects of the coronavirus on people of color.
“Many diseases, including COVID-19, have the potential to disproportionately impact people with serious underlying health conditions and those who are socially and economically disadvantaged,” said Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, in a news release. The county will look to other data sources for a better understanding of potential disproportionate impacts, Duchin said.
Early state data also indicates possible disparities, though about 58% of state cases are marked as unknown race/ethnicity. Of cases in which race or ethnicity information is known, 21% were Hispanic, compared to 13% of the population, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
White people made up about 60% of cases with race or ethnicity information, compared to 68% of the population and Black people were about 5% of cases compared to 4% of the population. In the state count, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders were 1% of cases and 1% of the population.
Across Washington, there have been 9,887 cases and 475 deaths, the majority in King County, according to the state’s latest count on Friday. Since early in the outbreak, some have pushed for demographic information to understand who is being hardest hit by the pandemic.
Public health officials warned against drawing conclusions from the demographic breakdown, which included confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths in King County as of Friday morning. The county said Friday it has race and ethnicity data for only about 51% of confirmed cases and more data is needed to draw conclusions.
“Please use caution in interpreting the data because of the small sample sizes (particularly among some race and ethnicity groups), availability of testing, and missing data,” the county said in a statement accompanying the numbers.
In King County, of confirmed cases where race or ethnicity information is known, Hispanic or Latino, Black and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander people were overrepresented compared to the county’s population.
The rate of confirmed cases is highest among Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders and Hispanics or Latinos, the county said. While the rate of cases among white people is about 94 per 100,000 county residents, that rate is more than double—189.5 per 100,000 — for Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders. The rate is about 159 per 100,000 among Hispanics or Latinos.
In hospitalized cases and deaths, there were “no statistically significant differences in rates among other race and ethnicity groups,” the county said. The county has race or ethnicity information for 63% of 646 hospitalized cases.
Among 274 deaths, the rate of death was highest among white people. However, the county notes that a majority of deaths occurred among people living in long-term care facilities where the demographics may not match the general population. “Additionally, this population may be at higher risk due to advanced age and underlying medical conditions,” the county wrote.
In hospitalizations and deaths, small sample sizes further limit the reliability of the data.
To gather demographic information, the state Department of Health contacts people who test positive for COVID-19 for an interview, but the department is not able to reach everyone, the county said. Public health officials plan to use other databases for “a more in-depth understanding of how COVID-19 is impacting our community,” the county said.