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New data on state’s coronavirus cases, deaths show stark racial divide

The breakdown shows that the virus has significantly and disproportionately hit Black and Hispanic communities.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders spoke during the state's daily coronavirus press briefing at the Massachusetts State House.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders spoke during the state's daily coronavirus press briefing at the Massachusetts State House.Chris Van Buskirk

New data released Friday by the Baker administration reveal the stark racial divide in Massachusetts surrounding illnesses and deaths from COVID-19, providing in more granular details just how significantly and disproportionately the virus has hit Black and Hispanic communities.

For instance, the numbers indicate that Hispanic residents make up 12 percent of the population, but their rate of positive cases is nearly 30 percent.

Similarly, Black residents represent about 7 percent of the population, but their rate of positive COVID-19 cases is double that, at 14.4 percent.

Overall, the state data show, the rate of positive cases among Black and brown residents is more than three times that of white residents. But despite a state mandate in April that required labs and health care providers to report racial and ethnic information when testing residents, the latest state data show that crucial information is still missing on 35 percent of cases.

The state’s COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group on Friday released recommendations to address the vast disparities. The group, formed to advise the state’s response to the pandemic, offered recommendations that include deeper data tracking, more equitable distribution of protective gear to people in at-risk jobs, and better tracking of “hot spots” on public transportation “to ensure vulnerable and marginalized communities are not subject to increased exposure due to crowded transit.”

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The advisory group also recommended that the state work to ensure all populations have “equitable access to culturally appropriate and needed therapies, vaccines, trials, and other necessary medical care.

And it urged efforts to improve housing for populations hit hardest by COVID-19. Health advocates say high housing costs and low wages in many Black and brown communities force families to live in crowded conditions, amplifying infections.

In nine of the 10 cities and towns with the highest infection rates, more than half of all residents identify as people of color, according to the report.

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“Our approach to COVID-19 and future health challenges should be to strengthen the underlying health of the Commonwealth,” Dr. Thea James, a member of the advisory group and vice president of mission and associate chief medical officer at Boston Medical Center, said in a statement.

The disparities are equally glaring when considering deaths.

The data show Hispanic, Black, and other communities of color, including those who are multiracial, have higher rates of death from COVID-19 in every age group compared to white and Asian residents. The state found this is most pronounced in these groups under age 70.

“We have long understood that racism is a public health issue that demands action, and the disproportionate impact of this new disease on communities of color and other priority populations is the latest indicator change is necessary,” said state public health commissioner Monica Bharel in a statement. “At the Department of Public Health, our mission is to eliminate health inequities, and we place equity at the core of all that we do.”

The report is a strong first step, but more data are needed to tell the “full story,” said advisory group member Eva Millona, president of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Advocacy Coalition. She said immigrants of color have been hit especially hard by COVID-19 and the report does not contain data to measure or better understand exactly the impacts.

Many are essential workers — cleaning staff, food service, and nursing home employees — who faced greater exposure to the virus on the job and in public transit, but are too fearful of deportation or losing the chance to become citizens to get tested.

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“My hope is that this hard work will continue and go deeper to tell the full story about all residents in Massachusetts for the long term,” Millona said.

The racial breakdown of the data was released as the state reported that the coronavirus death toll in Massachusetts had risen by 30 to 7,800 and that the number of people testing positive for the virus had climbed by 228 to 106,650, as key metrics monitored by the state continued to indicate progress in battling the outbreak.

The numbers reflected both confirmed and probable deaths and cases. When confirmed cases only are included, the tally is 7,619 deaths and 102,005 cases.

The state also reported that 9,471 new individuals had been given the molecular coronavirus test, bringing the total to 746,162. The total number of molecular tests that have been administered — a statistic the state began reporting Monday — rose to 939,352.

The state also reported progress on four key metrics it is monitoring as the economy reopens.

The seven-day weighted average of positive test rates remained stable at 2.2 percent as of Thursday. It has dropped 92 percent since April 15. Meanwhile, the three-day average of hospitalized patients dropped to 987 as of Thursday, down from 1,004 a day earlier. That figure has dropped 72 percent since mid-April.

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The number of hospitals using surge capacity ticked back down to 3 as of Thursday, and the three-day average of COVID-19 deaths dropped to 24 as of Tuesday, down from 28 a day earlier.

Governor Charlie Baker announced Friday that the state could proceed to step two of Phase 2 of its gradual reopening, which will allow restaurants to once again welcome diners indoors.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misstated the data on positive COVID-19 cases among the state’s Black and Hispanic residents.

Jaclyn Reiss and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed.




Kay Lazar can be reached at kay.lazar@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar. Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.