Omitted race data for COVID-19 could hide racial disparities in Florida, officials say

VIDEO: Omitted race data for COVID-19 could hide racial disparities in Florida, officials say

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — In Florida, 32% of COVID-19 patients don’t have a race listed, and local community leaders worry that could be hiding the same racial disparities other states are seeing.

The latest Orange County heat map shows ZIP code 32822 with 56 cases, the highest in the county. That means the Azalea Park area, which represents 4% of the county’s population, also has 8% of the cases.

“When I first saw the hot spots, I was shocked,” Orange County Commissioner Mayra Uribe said. “We have a huge minority population.”

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Uribe along with other local and state activists are worried we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

“Black and brown people are dying without even being noticed,” Uribe said. “Black and brown people are dealing with the virus without getting help.”

Data from states like Michigan, Illinois and Louisiana show black Americans are two to three times more likely to die than white residents, and Hispanics are more likely to be hospitalized and die as well.

“We are in this situation because we as society have allowed for there to be vulnerable communities,” said Robert Rooks, Alliance for Safety and Justice vice president.

So far in Florida, the gap is not as wide, although black Floridians, if infected, are more likely to be hospitalized than white Floridians.

Uribe said she believes the gap is just due to lack of testing, which is already scarce statewide and even worse in minority communities.

“Folks do not even know where they can get tested, they didn’t even know about the UCF place,” Uribe said. “A lot of people lack transportation.”

She said this is in part because of poor messaging to understand black and Hispanic communities, especially because of language barriers during news conferences.

Uribe also said the drive-thru testing sites have also made it too tough for a lot of people without cars to get tested.

“I’m worried,” Uribe said. “You go to the convention and it’s very far.”

She said she’s glad to see the UCF testing site now open closer to her residents, but worry a lot of residents of underserved populations in Orange County are still left out – areas the USDA shows have poor access to healthy foods.

Data also shows that Florida has long had some of the worst racial disparities in health outcomes in the nation.

Uribe said if we don’t find a way to reduce the disparities in this crisis, it will cost everyone later.

“I think we’re going to have to get under it if we really want to flatten this curve and get back to a normal Orange County,” she said.