We Need to Collect More Data During COVID-19 (and Believe It!)


Written by Tessa Constantine (Research Analyst)

Last week, learning of the news of President Trump saying during a press conference that light, heat, and injecting disinfectants could cure the coronavirus, was, unfortunately, less than shocking. In these times of crisis when science, medicine, and data are so crucial, we find ourselves met with an onslaught of conspiracy theories and rampant misinformation. Not only will this refusal to listen to experts extend the troubling times we find ourselves in, it also highlights a deeper issue: the invisibilization of racial disparities in this crisis.

As COVID-19 quickly moved to the forefront of international attention, it was often described as a “great equalizer,” given its ability to infect everyone regardless of race, class, or status. However, as data on infection rates and COVID-related mortality has emerged, we have found that the playing field is anything but equal. Instead, we are seeing much higher rates of risk for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, undocumented, and other historically marginalized communities. As reported by Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, a CDC analysis showed that across 14 states, Black people accounted for 18 percent of the sample population, but a third of the COVID-19 hospitalizations. As of April 14th in my home city of Milwaukee, WI, 44 of the 67 COVID-19 deaths (66%) have been Black folks, even though they make up just 41% of the city’s population. Despite these statistics, white protesters in the nearby suburb of Brookfield, WI joined others across the country holding signs that read “I need a haircut” and “Your health is not more important than my liberty.”

As people across the country and globe are met with daily news of COVID-19 ravaging communities and interrupting the status quo, it can truly feel like we’re all affected equally and that “we’re all in this together.” Data is what gives evidence to the contrary. More than ever, when world leaders and our social safety nets fail to care for those hit hardest by this crisis, data is what continues to give voice to those often overlooked. In a time where not all states are reporting on COVID-19 rates by race, it is paramount that more states and the federal government provide crucial data and use this opportunity to address any disparities, a call to action that Data for Black Lives is leading. When some states are advocating for the lifting of stay-at-home orders, increased data collection could serve as a reminder of the high stakes of doing so.

So, what does this mean for our work in the nonprofit sector? There are many ways to mobilize our work around this crisis, but here are a few examples of how you and your organization can start to take action:

  • Direct service providers can ensure that their work is using a race equity lens when distributing services. Now, more than ever, is the time to bring constituents into the process to find out what they need in this crisis.
  • Policy and justice organizations can dedicate resources to systemic racism issues (if they aren’t already) and use the COVID-19 crisis as additional evidence of the impact of historic injustice.
  • Funders can increase long-term, stable funding to people of color-led organizations working within at-risk or highly affected communities. Increasing capacity to these organizations will literally save lives.
  • EVERYONE can advocate for more data on COVID-19 by race. Signing petitions and raising awareness about the lack of equity in testing can go a long way. Once this data is published, use it to inform your organization’s response to this crisis. We all have a role to play in our combined effort, and a data-led approach can yield the best results for the most affected communities.

If we are to hold on to the sentiment that “we’re all in this together,” let’s start by acknowledging that we’re not all in this equally, and let’s continue by mobilizing our resources and compassion while advocating for increased and transparent data to fight alongside those with the odds literally stacked against them.

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