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Blacks make up disproportionate share of Long Island coronavirus death statistics

Shoppers wait to enter Trader Joe's in Westbury

Shoppers wait to enter Trader Joe's in Westbury on April 10. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island's black population makes up a disproportionate share of coronavirus deaths, according to preliminary data, just as previously released data has shown in New York City and the state overall.

The percentage of Nassau County residents who died from the virus who were black was 17%, which was higher than their share of the population — 11.7% — according to the department's data posted Tuesday. The share of residents who died who were Latinos was 13%, slightly lower than their share of the county's population, which was just under 17%. While whites made a far larger share of those who died — 58% — they were the most populous racial group, at nearly 67% of the population.

In Suffolk County, black residents' share of coronavirus deaths was 11%, higher than their nearly 8% share of the county's population. Latinos' share of the deaths was 13%, lower than their nearly 19% share of the county's population. The proportion of victims killed by the virus who were white was 66%, well below whites' nearly 81% share of the county's population.

The data was released on the state Health Department's COVID-19 tracker website. It follows the department's release of the racial and ethnic data for New York City and the state last week, the first time the department had provided such information. It has prompted political leaders in the region to ramp up testing facilities in minority communities and other outreach efforts targeting them.

David Nemiroff, president and chief executive of the nonprofit Long Island FQHC Inc., which has seven health centers in Nassau County, said county officials were "helping to facilitate" the acquisition of more coronavirus test kits to test the health centers' patients, more than 70% of whom are black and Latino. He said 65% of the centers' patients have tested positive for the virus.

"We're hoping for 100 kits at five of our largest sites," Nemiroff said, to "ramp up our capacity to test more. The other piece the county is helping us with is PPE [personal protective equipment] because we can’t get it. Without it, we don’t have the capacity to test. That’s a biggie."

Suffolk officials have added testing sites in Riverhead, Brentwood and Huntington, all areas with large populations of immigrants and blacks and Hispanics.

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"I would applaud the efforts to try to catch up and get ahead of this, [with] increased testing in communities where [black] people live," said Elaine Gross, founder and president of ERASE Racism, a civil rights group based in Syosset. She also wants to see efforts focused on how low-wage workers live, determining whether "they go back to a crowded home," which she said may contribute to the spread of the virus.

As for critics who responded to a Newsday report last week about the disproportionate impact the virus has had on blacks — blaming some blacks for their poor health — Gross said it speaks to a lack of understanding about how inequities in society may affect poor health outcomes for many African Americans.

Many people "are totally unaware, when we say structural racism, of what that means," Gross said. "They think all you have to do is pull yourselves up by your bootstraps. They don’t see the ongoing factors: Like research shows African Americans are impacted by the environmental causes of asthma, which has to do with the quality of the air where they live. … They haven’t seen the research that has shown that doctors sometimes make decisions that reflect their own implicit bias and so they don’t treat African Americans necessarily the way they should for various ailments."

Gross cited the risks many low-wage workers, many of them minorities, face when "cleaning up hospital floors" or working as cashiers at grocery stores, jobs now considered essential. "Only last week I started seeing those Plexiglas structures coming up" separating cashiers from customers, she said.

And when looked at in terms of the age-adjusted death rates, the racial disparity grows more stark, in the view of one analyst.

"The age-adjusted rate allows you to make comparisons across different population sizes," said Martine Hackett, an associate professor and director of public health programs at Hofstra University.

Hackett analyzed the age-adjusted fatality rate per 100,000 people and found "that Nassau County's death rate for black non-Hispanics is three times the rate in New York City, the highest among suburban counties" in the state, and more than twice the death rate for whites in Nassau County. Her analysis covered Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties. 

"The fact that New York City has 8 million [people] and Nassau County has fewer doesn’t matter because the denominators are the same," Hackett said. She added the age adjustment "allows for differences in the age distribution within a population. Because COVID-19 affects the older population more significantly, it adjusts how many older people are in these populations."

Coronavirus fatalities by race/ethnicity for Long Island

NASSAU COUNTY

HISPANIC:

Fatalities by number: 99

Fatalities by percentage: 13% (Hispanics comprise 16.6% of the county's population)

Population total: 234,061

Age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 population: 55.3

BLACK:

Fatalities by number: 134

Fatalities by percentage: 17% (blacks comprise 11.7% of the county's population)

Population: 163,226

Age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 population: 75.8

WHITE:

Fatalities by number: 450

Fatalities by percentage: 58% (white's comprise 68.6% of the county's population)

Population total: 814,684

Age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 population: 30.9

ASIAN:

Fatalities by number: 57

Fatalities by percentage: 7% (Asians comprise 9.3% of the county's population)

Population total: 144,251

Age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 population: 41.7

SUFFOLK COUNTY

HISPANIC:

Fatalities by number: 60

Fatalities by percentage: 13% (Hispanics comprise 18.9% of the county's population)

Population total: 292,890

Age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 population: 35.3

BLACK:

Fatalities by number: 51

Fatalities by percentage: 11% (blacks comprise 7.9% of the county's population)

Population total: 116,116

Age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 population: 47.6

WHITE:

Fatalities by number: 294

Fatalities by percentage: 66% (whites comprise 80.7% of the county's population)

Population total: 1,004,963

Age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 population: 17.9

ASIAN:

Fatalities by number: 10

Fatalities by percentage: 2% (Asians comprise 3.9% of the county's population)

Population total: 63,602

Age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 population: 16.1

SOURCES: New York State Health Department, figures are from April 14, 2020; U.S. Census Bureau 2018 American Community Survey

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