For the first time, Oklahoma on Thursday released breakdowns of COVID-19 cases and deaths by race, and the data, while incomplete, shows that the disease is killing a disproportionately high number of whites, with blacks the second largest group.
Eighty people have died of the respiratory disease, according to figures released Thursday.
The data shows that whites-only make up nearly 79% of those who have died, followed by blacks, at 7.5%. American Indians/Alaska natives make up 5%, Hispanics 1.3% and those of other or multiple races 1.3%. Race was not reported for 7.5% of deaths, and ethnicity not for nearly 14%.
The race and ethnicity for those testing positive for the novel coronavirus was more incomplete, at nearly 19% and 22% not reported.
Whites make up 74% of the state’s population, and blacks nearly 8%, according to the latest Census Bureau estimates. American Indians represent 9%, and Hispanics nearly 11%.
In response to questions, the Oklahoma City-County Health Department said that among its 15 COVID-19 deaths as of Thursday, 11 were white and all of those were males. Three non-Hispanic blacks died and one Hispanic/American Indian died, said Latoya Knighten, strategic communications director for the department.
The numbers are too small to indicate whether COVID-19 is having a disproportionately lethal impact on African-Americans, as reported in some other states.
In Tulsa, Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa Health Department, said his agency could not provide the racial breakdown of Tulsa County’s 16 deaths because they had not studied race or ethnicity yet. “We’ve just started looking at that data,” Dart said. “I really don’t have an answer for you so far.”
He added the agency needed to query the state’s database and run an analysis. “It’s really tough to pick race and ethnicity out of there,” he said.
More than a dozen other states or cities, including Michigan, have started reporting racial breakdowns of COVID-19 cases or deaths and, at least in some cases, the data has shown racial disparities. In Cook County, home to Chicago, medical examiner data indicates that black residents make up 23% of the population but account for 58% of COVID-19 deaths, the public radio station WBEZ reported.
On Wednesday, a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that severe cases of COVID-19 are disproportionately affecting African-Americans. The study looked at hospitalizations for the disease in 14 states. Most hospitalized patients had underlying medical conditions, and other studies have found that minority communities suffer disproportionately from those. Oklahoma has not released racial breakdowns for hospitalizations.
In releasing data Thursday, the state health department issued a statement explaining, “Up until recently, the state’s form to receive a COVID test included race/ethnicity but it was optional for the patient to fill in. As a result, less than 25% of individuals have participated in these identifiers. The health department adjusted protocol in the past week, and now state nurses are requesting this information again when conducting their investigations of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.”
Breakdowns by positive cases, as opposed to deaths, are complicated by the fact that testing for the virus has been uneven across the state and country. The number of deaths by county in Oklahoma are too small to calculate with any certainty the per capita numbers for some sub-groups, including race.
The state’s racial breakdown of positive cases released Thursday show the following: White, 65%; American Indian/Alaska native, 6.8%; Black, 4.5%; Asian, 1.7%; other or multiple races, 3.6%, and Hispanic or Latino, 5%. Race wasn’t reported in 18.5% of cases, and ethnicity wasn’t reported in 21.9% of cases.