Latino, black Iowans are a disproportionate share of the COVID-19 cases, according to new state data
Reynolds announced there have been another 189 positive tests and six more deaths related to COVID-19. Des Moines Register
Black and Hispanic Iowans are disproportionately testing positive for COVID-19, according to new data the state made available Tuesday.
Hispanic and Latino Iowans make up about 6.2% of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but they account for 16.4% of the positive tests for the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus. Black Iowans are about 4% of the state’s population, but 8.7% of total confirmed cases.
White Iowans make up about 90.7% of the state population, the Census Bureau says. But, the state says that white Iowans only account for 73% of confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to data released as part of a new online dashboard. The state government had previously declined to release data on the racial makeup of those who had been sickened.
As of Tuesday, 1,899 Iowans had tested positive for the virus and 49 people had died from it, the state reported. The state said Tuesday that an additional 189 people had tested positive for COVID-19, a new one-day high, and six more had died.
Both numbers are expected to grow as the state reaches the contagion's peak, state and medical experts have said. The virus has been particularly deadly among the elderly — more than half of the deaths have been among nursing home residents — but it has spread throughout communities.
Nearly half of the new confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported Tuesday — 86 of the 189 — were tied to an outbreak at a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Louisa County, Gov. Kim Reynolds said. According to Census Bureau figures, a little more than 16% of that county's residents are Hispanic or Latino.
All told, 186 employees at the plant have tested positive for the virus. Tyson Foods has suspended the plant’s operations.
Joe Henry, president of the local League of United Latin American Citizens council, tied working conditions that disproportionately affect Hispanic Iowans to their disproportionate infection rate.
“With Latinos working in the food production industry throughout the nation in high-density work environments — farm fields, meat processing plants, milk dairies— it is not surprising,” Henry wrote in an email. “But it should be a warning to our state that not enough is being done to provide safety to Latinos and immigrants that are working long hours to feed the nation.”
Kameron Middlebrooks, president of the Des Moines chapter of the NAACP, said while the disproportionate contagion among Iowans who are black was alarming, he was not surprised. He quoted an African American adage for the times: When America catches a cold, Black America has pneumonia.
“Like any other health issue, African Americans and minorities overall are disproportionately affected,” Middlebrooks said. “Look at heart disease, mental health, you name it, you’re going to see disparity.”
Last week, the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP called on Reynolds to start tracking the race and ethnicity of people infected with COVID-19. Larger states and cities with higher proportions of black residents have also reported the disease spreading disproportionately in minority communities, and resulting in disproportionately fatal outcomes.
Middlebrooks called on Reynolds to issue a shelter-in-place order, at least for counties with high rates of COVID-19. Several of those counties, including Polk, Black Hawk and Johnson, have higher percentages of black residents than the state as a whole, he noted. Reynolds has resisted those calls, saying that her earlier orders are cumulatively as stringent as many states' shelter-in-place orders and that internal metrics don't yet call for stronger restrictions on Iowa to curb the coronavirus' spread.
Middlebrooks called on private industry to step up efforts to protect workers, particularly those who interact with the public.
“It seems to me we don’t have all the needed protections, the PPEs, not only with our health care providers but also our front-facing employers,” Middlebrooks said. “Your bus drivers, your folks working in the fast-food industry or the restaurant industry that are still in business. A lot of the folks working these low-income jobs are people of color, and the fear is that they’re not being protected.”
In addition to his call for short-term measures to fight the disease, Middlebrooks worries about the long-term effects of the national shutdown and unemployment during the pandemic. He used the example of the moratorium on evictions: It works now, but what about when those bills come due to people who can’t afford them?
“Are we going to do enough not only for all Americans, but for the lesser off and less fortunate, which a lot of times is disproportionately African Americans?” Middlebrooks said.
Data visualization specialist Tim Webber contributed to this report.
Nick Coltrain is a politics and data reporter for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 515-284-8361. Your subscription makes work like this possible. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal.