Va. health department updates COVID-19 dashboard to include detailed race and ethnicity data

Two new cases of COVID-19 have been reported out of Rock Island County. Health officials say...
Two new cases of COVID-19 have been reported out of Rock Island County. Health officials say this now brings the county's total to 700. Of the confirmed cases, officials say four patients are in the hospital. (MGN Image)(KWQC)
Published: Jun. 15, 2020 at 6:28 PM EDT
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Effective immediately, the Virginia Department of Health is changing how race and ethnicity data on COVID-19 cases is presented in each day's case updates.

According to the health department, the new data will provide a more detailed look at the effects of the virus on minority populations across Virginia.

Race and ethnicity information will be combined into one dedicated category, and the number of racial identities presented on the

will increase from three to seven.

Previously, race data was reported as one of three categories: White, Black or African American, and Other. Ethnicity data identified individuals as either "Hispanic or Latino" or "Not Hispanic or Latino."

Now, the new reporting method will expand racial and ethnic categories to include the following:

• Asian or Pacific Islander – Non-Hispanics who identify as Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander

• Black – Non-Hispanics who identify as Black or African American

• Latino – Individuals of any race who identify as Hispanic or Latino

• Native American – Non-Hispanics who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native

• White – Non-Hispanics who identify as White

• Other Race – Non-Hispanics who select Other Race

• Two or More Races – Non-Hispanics who identify as more than one of the above race categories

“We have been working diligently for the last several weeks to provide more detailed race and ethnicity data. This updated format allows us to get a clearer picture of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting minority communities in Virginia,” said Virginia State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A.

“We see, for instance, that COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Virginia’s Latinx population. Although Latinx people make up 10 percent of the state’s population, they account for 45 percent of the COVID-19 cases, 35 percent of the hospitalizations and 11 percent of the deaths. Factors such as access to health care, poverty, geography, occupation and racism drive these disparities. Our health districts across the state are working hard to expand testing and outreach in these hard-hit communities,” Dr. Oliver said. “One of our biggest challenges is the large amount of missing data on race and ethnicity in the disease reports we receive. We continue to encourage individuals, health providers and laboratories to report race and ethnicity data.”

According to the health department, reporting accurate race and ethnicity data with more in-depth information is considered to be an an essential step toward better measuring COVID-19 infection rates, as well as tracking the overall impact of the pandemic.

In addition, department officials say the updated method of presenting data will allow Office of Health Equity researchers to identify health inequities while providing information to develop tracking and reporting guidelines for future health crises.

“The leadership of the Health Equity Working Group (HEWG) group is committed to building visible equity by leveraging sincere stakeholder engagement and the diverse perspectives represented within this historic body, which includes the many dimensions of diversity we have represented in the Commonwealth,” said Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Janice Underwood, Ph.D.

“As a partner in the pursuit of justice for all and advancing equity across several determinants of health, the HEWG advocated for expanding racial data collected for COVID-19 to include those of Asian and Indigenous Virginia Indian or Native American heritage,” said Dr. Underwood. “We are pleased that these updated reporting changes will ensure a more complete picture of the impact this pandemic is having on our residents.”

The newly defined categories are in line with the kinds of race and ethnicity standards used by various state and federal agencies. With that data collection method, the health department should be able to integrate various data sources all together.

To help preserve individual privacy of groups with relatively small population numbers, data for several health districts will be combined as follows:

• Asian or Pacific Islanders

- Cumberland Plateau Health District and Lenowisco Health District

- Eastern Shore Health District and Three Rivers Health District

• Native American

- Cumberland Plateau Health District, Lenowisco Health District and Mount Rogers Health District

- Pittsylvania/Danville Health District and Southside Health District

- Eastern Shore Health District and Three Rivers Health District

- Alleghany Health District and Roanoke City Health District

In addition to changing the Demographics dashboard of the COVID-19 dashboard, the health department will offer options data downloading for public use, including a single data set with all seven categories.

The combined data set will replace the previous Race and Ethnicity data sets, thanks to the efforts of various groups, including the Office of Health Equity and Health Equity Working Group.

In addition to changes to the Demographics dashboard, the options for data downloading for public use will include a single dataset with the seven categories. This combined dataset will replace the previous Race and Ethnicity datasets. The more granular presentation of race data is the result of collaboration with various groups, including the Office of Health Equity and Health Equity Working Group.