City Leaders Call for Data Disaggregation in COVID-19 Response

April 29, 2020 - (4 min read)

The legacy of structural racism from redlining, urban renewal, and other local, state, and federal policies has led to generations of disinvestment and hazardous environments in communities of color, especially Black communities. It has become clear that the COVID-19 crisis continues to exacerbate racial inequities in health and healthcare access resulting from this legacy 

Rochester Mayor Provides Example of Leadership 

Mayor Lovely Warren of Rochester, New York, addressed this fact to the residents of Rochester.

“In fact, because of decades of disparities in healthcare, poverty, and food access, Black and Brown communities in our cities, as a whole, are suffering more from this disease.”


We cannot know to what degree this impact is being felt unless we have data on both disease prevalence and death rates, as well as economic and social impacts. Data must be broken down by race and ethnicity to show differences between groups of peopleSome cities and states, including Detroit, Chicago, New York City, Milwaukee, and the state of Michigan, have begun to collect and report COVID-19 cases by race. 

As Mayor Warren acknowledges, “Unfortunately, the data we have today is far from complete.” To understand the true impact of COVID-19 on our most disproportionately impacted communities, we must collect data on testing, diagnoses, hospitalization, and COVID-19 deaths that are disaggregated by race. 

Historically, many government and healthcare institutions have failed to collect racially disaggregated data out of a desire to ignore the real impacts that the construction of race has continued to have postcivil rights era. However, a true racial equity approach requires us to acknowledge the uneven playing field that already exists. Rather than creating the disparities, collecting and analyzing data on differences in outcomes based on race and ethnicity simply uncovers the inequities that have long existed beneath the surface. Collecting data will require coordination between cities, states, public health departments, hospitals, health care providers, and COVID-19 testing sites.  

Other Examples of City Leadership 

Chicago, Illinois
Chicago has developed several strategies to partner with health care providers and institutions around communication, education, data collection, and addressing barriers to protecting against COVID-19. Strategies include regular communication by phone and webinar with the Chicago Health Alert Network, healthcare networks, and insurance providers on the importance of data, and to solicit ideas for slowing disease transmissionMayor Lightfoot used her press conference in early April to underscore the requirement for healthcare providers to collect full demographic data on all COVID-19 patients. 

Baltimore, Maryland
In an April 9 broadcast, NPR reported: Dozens of lawmakers in Maryland have been pushing for the state to report data on coronavirus cases broken down by race and zip code. In Baltimore, Council President Brandon Scott introduced a bill this week that would require the city’s health commissioner to do just that. 

“We know that in black neighborhoods in Baltimore and brown neighborhoods in Baltimore and poor neighborhoods in Baltimore and certain zip codes, your health determines – are significantly different than those in others.”

Providing this critical data to the public in an accessible, digestible way can help governments, non-profits, and communities channel their resources into the Black and Brown communities that, without specific intervention, will be devastated most by COVID-19.  

In addition, the step to collect and broadly share disaggregated data should extend beyond the analysis of disparate health outcomes. A clear picture is needed of who comprise the 22 million unemployed and who is or is not receiving financial assistance through the CARES Act. 


 About the Authors:

Ian_SnyderIan Snyder is a Heinz Policy Fellow with NLC’s Race, Equity, And Leadership (REAL) Initiative




Aliza R. Wasserman is the Senior Program Specialist with NLC’s Race, Equity, And Leadership (REAL) Initiative.