Unknowns might shroud worse racial disparity as Indiana releases more COVID-19 information

REVISED R Horizontal Bar Chart COVID RACE Disparity County in Indiana UKNOWNS ARE UNKNOWNS

More kinds of data and more tools for visualizing it were a part of the re-vamped COVID-19 data dashboard rolled out on Monday by the Indiana State Department of Health.

The new dashboard shows that of the 2,960 ICU beds in the state, about a quarter of them are being used for COVID-19 patients, and a little over 30 percent for other patients. That leaves about 1,300 ICU beds open for future COVID-19 patients.

The new dashboard also gives a visual answer to the question that arises when the cumulative death total is reported as going up by some number of “new” deaths: To which previous days have those new deaths been allocated, so that the deaths square up with the date when they occurred?

Also added to the dashboard for Monday was a breakdown of the racial makeup of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state. Available through the data feed that populates the dashboard are county-level numbers.

Statewide, the number of deaths among Black residents stands around 20 percent, with 8.6 percent of deaths by people of unknown race. The Black population in Indiana is about 9.3 percent, based on 2018 American Community Survey numbers.

Even if none of the Unknowns are Black, that would still mean  that Blacks account for at least twice as many deaths from COVID-19 as their percentage of the population alone would predict.

As of Monday, the percentage of unknown race in the statewide data for deaths was around 8.6 percent in the data feed as tallied by the Square Beacon. If all of those Unknowns turn out to be Black residents who died from COVID-19, it would mean that across the state, Blacks account for triple the number of deaths from COVID-19, as their percentage of the population alone would predict.

Last Friday, the state’s health commissioner Kristina Box laid out the initial racial distribution numbers, before the dashboard was re-vamped.

Responding to a reporter’s question last week, Box said she expected to see the kind of racial disparity that turned out to be reflected in the numbers—for at least two reasons. For one thing, other states are finding that kind of disparity, she told reporters at the daily press briefing.

The second reason Box gave was that the underlying risk factors for COVID-19, like diabetes and heart disease, are more prevalent among the Black population.

R Horizontal Bar Chart COVID RACE Demographic Marion County DEATHS through April 12

In Marion County, the percentage of Unknowns for deaths is a little higher than statewide. If all 10.6 percent of the unknown race deaths in Marion County turn out to be among the Black population, that would make for about 30-point disparity—57 percent versus 27.7 percent—between the share of Black COVID-19 deaths and the Black share of the Marion County population.

REVISED R Horizontal Bar Chart COVID RACE Disparity County in Indiana UKNOWNS are BLACK


The percentage of unknown race for confirmed cases of COVID-19 is even higher than for deaths.

Across the state, about 24.5 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases are of unknown race, and in Marion County it’s about 28 percent.

In Marion County the number of Unknowns rivals the number of White or Black COVID-19 patients. Each of the three categories has about one-third of the confirmed COVID-19 cases.

In Monroe County the number of Unknowns for COVID-19 cases is 6, which is about 7 percent of the total 87 confirmed cases.

R Horizontal Bar Chart COVID RACE Demographic Marion County through April 12

R Horizontal Bar Chart COVID RACE Demographic Monroe County CASES through April 12

At Monday’s daily briefing by Indiana’s governor Eric Holcomb and his team, Box acknowledged that a “significant” amount of the race data is missing.

On Monday, the topic of racial disparities didn’t draw any questions from the state’s press corps who are invited to ask questions at the daily briefing via a remote interface.

On the national scene, Anthony Fauci, who’s director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has talked about the issue of racial disparity in COVID-19 cases. Fauci said during an April 7 press briefing that the racial disparities, which are evident in COVID-19 outcomes, spotlight existing disparities in a way that should cause them to be addressed, once the COVID-19 crisis is over.

In his remarks, Fauci said:

[H]ealth disparities have always existed for the African-American community, but here again with the crisis, now it’s shining a bright light on how it’s unacceptable. …Their underlying medical conditions—the diabetes, the hypertension, the obesity, the asthma—those are the kind of things that wind them up in the ICU and ultimately give them a higher death rate. So when all this is over… there will still be health disparities, which we really do need to address in the African-American community.