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'Collect The Data!' Harris County Commissioner Urges Gathering Race Data On COVID-19 Cases

Gabriel C. Perez/KUT
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis says a larger proportion of African Americans have jobs that aren't possible to do from home, which makes it harder for them to protect their health during the pandemic.

From Texas Standard:

Anyone can become infected with COVID-19. But as the disease spreads across the United States, it's affecting a disproportionate number of African Americans. In Texas, the full picture of that disparity is unclear because the state only has demographic data for about one quarter of all COVID-19 cases.

Now, a group of black Democratic lawmakers from Texas is requesting that state and local officials mandate the collection of demographic data of people who have tested positive, and of those who have died from COVID-19. Other cities and states have already begun that process.

Harris County commissioner, and former Democratic state senator, Rodney Ellis, told Texas Standard Wednesday that collecting that data helps epidemiologists better determine how to slow the spread of the disease and care for people in groups that are more at risk. Helping those people can help everyone when it comes to the coronavirus, he said.

"If there's disproportionality in African American communities ... it could impact all of us," Ellis said.

If the data collected so far in Milwaukee, Chicago and other cities is any indication, black and Latino people in Harris County face a much higher risk of infection. He argued that's partly because a disproportionate number of them work in jobs that don't allow them to work from home.

"Many blacks work in industries where they're bus drivers, they're post people – they deliver the mail; they're in the service industry – places where they have to come in contact with people in order to make their ends meet," he said.

Uninsured rates are also highest in Texas among African Americans and Latinos.

Air pollution is another risk factor, since COVID-19 is a respiratory disease – especially in Houston and Harris County where pollution from the oil and gas industry is already a problem.

For now, Texas isn't collecting racial data. But Ellis said it can be done on a local level. He expects Houston and Harris County to start collecting, and said it could lead to statewide legislation proposals during the 2021 legislative session.

"It's unfortunate we weren't doing it before," Ellis said. "Collect the data! It's always best to follow the data."

Written by Caroline Covington.

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