Equitable Data Collection and Interpretation

This week, Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the bicameral Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure on COVID-19 Act, which would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect and report racial and other demographic data on COVID-19 testing, treatment, and fatality rates.  Additionally, within 60 days of the end of the crisis, HHS would need to provide a summary of final statistics and a report to Congress. We were excited to learn that the bill would also require the CDC to post on their website “data on testing, treatment, and fatalities, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, sex, age, socioeconomic status, disability status, county, and other demographic information.”  Sound familiar?  We think so.  Although we have not had any conversations with either office, WISER did Tweet “Show Me The Data, But Disaggregate It First” @ Sen. Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley.

While I am excited to see progress with respect to the disaggregation of data, I am concerned about how the HHS report would be interpreted.” During a podcast recording yesterday, which I’ll share next week, my co-guest, economist Gary Hoover, suggested, cynically, that the disaggregation of data may reduce concern about the impact of COVID-19 if it shows that Blacks or another marginalized population is disproportionately impacted.  His comments align with my tweet asking if Whites were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, would we see all those requests to reopen states.

On April 7, I was a guest on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) program “Business Matters.”  Jamie Robertson, the host, suggested that disaggregating the data would identify the “symptoms” for why Blacks are disproportionately impacted.  Jamie’s comment is a reminder that those outside the U.S., as well as some in the U.S., do not understand the consequences of structural racism and exclusion.  For them, as Jamie said, Blacks do not have the education to take better care of themselves.

You can hear my discussion with Jamie here and you can hear the full BBC “Business Matters” episode “Wuhan’s citizens out of lockdown.”

As the COVID-19 crisis lingers, we must be vigilant about how data are presented and interpreted.

Stay safe and well,
Rhonda V. Sharpe