AUSTIN (KXAN) — New public health data indicates that Hispanic and Black residents in Austin-Travis County are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
New numbers indicate 51% of Austin-Travis County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are Hispanic individuals and 12% of local hospitalizations are for Black individuals, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said at Tuesday’s Austin City Council work session.
For comparison, July 2019 Census numbers show that 33.9% of Travis County’s population is Hispanic or Latino and 8.9% of Travis County’s population is black.
Escott explained that these new numbers reflect how many people have been admitted and discharged to Travis County hospitals from March 1 through last Wednesday, April 29. He added that these numbers reflect a “significant increase” of Hispanics and Blacks who have been hospitalized.
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You can view these numbers (which are based on data from Ascension Seton, St. David’s Healthcare, and Baylor Scott & White) on Austin-Travis County’s COVID-19 Dashboard here.
“We are hopeful this week to be able to show you weekly trends as we rebuild the data backward to show the week-by-week effect on race and ethnicity as it pertains to hospitalizations,” Escott told council members.
A spokesperson for the City of Austin clarified in an email that public officials believe the data is now showing a disproportionate impact for people who are Hispanic and Black because, “individuals within those demographics are more prevalent in the workforce right now combined with a higher likelihood of multigenerational households.”
“These two factors are likely contributing to increased exposure to COVID-19,” the city spokesperson continued. “The contribution to hospitalizations is likely due to the underlying and unaddressed health issues as well as barriers to accessing care.”
In mid-April, Austin-Travis County’s demographic numbers of COVID-19 cases did not show this disparity in cases/hospitalizations, but public health leaders at the time were well aware of reports from around the country indicating how people of color in many communities had been disproportionately impacted by the novel coronavirus.
In April, the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams explained that while the federal government does not think people of color are biologically or genetically predisposed to get COVID-19, that people of color are socially predisposed to coronavirus exposure and have a higher incidence of diseases that put people at risk for COVID-19.
Adams also noted at that time that one in five African Americans and one in six Hispanics in the U.S. have a job that allows them to work from home, making them less likely to telework. He also noted that people of color are more likely to live in dense areas and multi-generational housing, which could create a higher risk for the spread of disease.
Research from the UT Health Science Center suggests that Travis County’s Eastern Crescent is the part of the Austin area most at risk for severe cases of COVID-19.
At the council work session Tuesday, Dr. Escott noted, “one of our issues that we’re having right now, particularly, in our eastside crescent, is we have lots of folks, sometimes multi-generations of individuals living in one home.”
“The more congested the home is, the more likely that household transmission is to happen,” Escott said, noting that for multi-generational households with COVID-19 cases, Austin-Travis County is encouraging those who test positive to isolate in the free isolation hotels the region has secured to avoid infecting others.
In mid-April, Central Health and CommUnityCare reopened clinics and launched mobile testing sites in the Eastern Crescent of the city in an effort to better support the community there.
Meme Styles, founder and president of data-driven Austin nonprofit MEASURE, sent KXAN the following statement in response to this new data on the demographics of Travis County COVID-19 hospitalizations:
“While the coronavirus does not discriminate or care about the color of one’s skin we do know that one’s socioeconomic status before infection takes place plays a major part in survivability. The structures of systemic racism is evident in these numbers and in Austin and show that however anti-racist and equity-driven we aim to be, our ability to save the lives of black and brown people is the measure of progress. We are holding space for families and communities of color who are bearing the brunt of this pandemic.”
Chas Moore, executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition, said that these demographic trends in Travis County, “along with what’s happening nationally, like in Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans, are linked to generational health outcomes like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension due to underlying social conditions for the black community like environmental racism, unaffordable housing, a lack of job opportunities, poverty, and inadequate health care.”
Moore suggested that based on reports from other cities, these new numbers showing disparate impact in Austin are not surprising.
“We looked at those cities as the looming future for Austin, where black residents have seen disparate impact along all of the quality of life areas, including healthcare,” Moore said.