New data made available this week on the state's coronavirus website shows what public health officials have noted all over the country: Racial and ethnic minorities make up an outsized portion of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Race and ethnicity is known for roughly two-thirds of Idaho's COVID-19 cases and for more than 90% of COVID-19 deaths.
In Idaho, where just 1.6% of the population is Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, that demographic group accounts for 2.2% of the state's coronavirus cases and 3.2% of deaths, as of Thursday.
Hispanic or Latino Idahoans make up 13% of the state's population, but 23% of COVID-19 cases.
"Probably, a lot of that has to do with, with our Hispanic population, in general, the types of employment they're in," said Elizabeth Fore, an associate professor of community and public health at Idaho State University, who has studied public health among Idaho's Latino and immigrant populations.
“People are working more in service industries and in industries where they’ve got a lot more contact with people," she said.
That includes food manufacturing, construction and agriculture sectors, many of which have kept people in their workplaces where they could be exposed to the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists a number of factors for why racial and ethnic minorities could be getting sick with, and dying of, COVID-19 at disproportionate rates. These include dense living spaces, a lack of paid sick leave, underlying medical conditions brought about by economic and social disparaties, and less access to healthcare and health insurance.
But Fore said it's noteworthy, given the high proportion of Hispanic and Latino Idahoans who have tested positive for COVID-19, that the percentage of deaths among that group is relatively low. One possible explanation for this, Fore said, is the median age of Hispanic people in Idaho is less than that of the statewide population.
The demographic case numbers published by the state aren't surprising to Fore because they follow patterns in other states, but she said they don’t tell a complete story because of a lack of uniform testing.
“Without having equal testing throughout the state for everyone, we’re not really going to know how the disease is affecting different subpopulations," she said.
For example, there's not data available on whether certain racial or ethnic groups are more represented in the state's testing. The Governor's testing task force, which was formed in late April ahead of the state's reopening, lists making testing more accessible to racial and ethnic minorities as a priority.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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