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Latinos Around the Bay Area Are Disproportionately Affected by COVID-19

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Two people photographed from behind walking down what is recognizably Mission Street in San Francisco, because of the New Mission theater sign in the background, in focus.
Pedestrians walk in San Francisco's Mission District. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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Local data from public health departments reveal that Latinos are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in the Bay Area, mirroring initial nationwide findings that the virus is hitting different racial groups unequally.

For instance, in San Francisco, Latinos account for 15% of the population, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, but comprise 25% of confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to data accessed from the health department on April 22.

In Santa Clara County, Latinos account for 26% of the population, and 36% of confirmed cases; and in Alameda County, 22.5% of the population and 25% of confirmed cases.

These three counties have some of the highest numbers and rates of confirmed cases in the Bay Area. Currently, in the nine-county Bay Area, only Alameda, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties report detailed racial data. The Napa County Public Health Department reports cases by "Hispanic," "Non-Hispanic White," "Other" and "Unknown."

For the purposes of this analysis, the charts below display the language used by each county, and KQED has compared them to the closest matching U.S. Census Bureau fields. The population data come from the 2018 5-year American Community Survey.




Across the country, public health workers, academics and elected officials are starting to take notice of how COVID-19 is impacting people of color at higher rates.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released nationwide racial demographic data that revealed 38% percent of COVID-19 patients are Latino, even though Latinos make up about 18% of the population of the United States. There was also a stark difference among black people nationwide, who comprised 29% of COVID-19 patients, but 13% of the national population.

However, there are a lot of gaps in what we know.

First, there's just missing information. Most health departments in California are not reporting racial demographic data. And when there are data, there are often a lot of "unknowns." In San Francisco County, 30% of cases have an unknown race, in Alameda County 28% and in Santa Clara County 17%.

Race and ethnicity are also complex concepts to reduce to basic, consistent data points – and health departments and the U.S. Census Bureau report race and ethnicity differently. For instance, the Alameda County Public Health Department combines "Native Americans" and "multirace," whereas the U.S. Census Bureau reports "American Indian and Alaska Native" and "Two or more races."

There's also the question of how to best collect and clean data on race and ethnicity. The U.S. Census Bureau considers "White," "Black or African American," "Asian," "American Indian and Alaska Native" and "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander" all races, but "Hispanic or Latino" as an ethnicity. So someone who considers herself to be a white Latina could report her race and ethnicity in many different ways, including as "White," "Some other race" or "Two or more races."

San Francisco does offer detailed data using the U.S. Census definitions.

All of this assumes that someone's race is also being accurately recorded. It's unclear how public health departments are recording someone's race and ethnicity. The gold standard is self-identification, but that's not always possible.

Along with examining the demographics of people with confirmed cases of COVID-19, experts say that it will also be important to investigate who is being hospitalized and dying. Currently, even fewer public health departments offer that data.

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