With the tracking and counting of coronavirus cases in the country being one of the most failed efforts during the pandemic, the Antiracist Research & Policy Center has stepped up and launched a COVID Racial Data Tracker to document how the pandemic is devastating communities of color, according to Democracy Now!.
The initiative emerged in early March 2020 when The Atlantic journalists Robinson Meyer and Alexis Madrigal began building a spreadsheet to track the virus in the country.
Unable to find an official source with unified data and daily updates, they joined forces with data scientist Jeff Hammerbacher to bring to light a collaborative project that would provide real data and a concise overview of the pandemic in the United States.
Ibram X Kendi, who heads the antiracist center, said the tracker was needed because the federal government was failing to collect racial demographic data.
“We felt it was necessary to build the most comprehensive data set available and make presentable for people to understand the racial disparities we’re actually seeing all over this country,” he said. “And hopefully people will use the tracker to recognize what communities are the most vulnerable in their states, and ensure that those communities are — policy is changing and those communities are receiving relief.”
The key problem in the way the government has dealt with the pandemic has also been “the gaps created by the way the state and federal agencies report the data,” explained The New York Times.
According to the COVID Tracking Project, at least 41,000 people have been tested in the United States, a much higher number than the CDC offers.
“I would say the states have done a fairly good job,” said Meyer in an interview with NPR. “But there are now a number of states, including Pennsylvania, Texas, Georgia — and Virginia used to be doing this, but it has since stopped — that are reporting viral and antibody tests, which are these two different kinds of coronavirus tests, in the same metric. And that’s the biggest issue right now, and it’s really limiting our ability to understand the pandemic.”
“The two tests tell you different things,” he added. “A viral test tells you whether somebody is sick right now, and it’s the kind of test that we would use to do contact tracing. It’s the kind of test we’d use for someone who works in a high-risk environment or someone who might be sick. An antibody test tells you something very different. It says, has someone been exposed or fought off a COVID infection in the recent past, and, in fact, did they fight it off more than a week ago? They give you two different kinds of information. And when you combine them together, those two different kinds of information get completely muddled.”
This lack of concrete information is what has led several states to establish fallible arguments when deciding to reopen public spaces, and prevents coherent monitoring of the pandemic throughout the territory.
“I think most states, at this point, have started to phase back some of their shelter-in-place or social distancing policies. And what’s hard is that we won’t really have the data to know, you know, what’s safe and what isn’t and what is resulting in a surge of new infections for another few weeks,” Meyer concluded.
More specifically, the COVID Tracking Project highlights the serious impact the virus has had on communities of color, where the African-American population, while representing 27 percent of the population, has also accounted for 47 percent of cases and 45 percent of deaths in states such as Alabama.
Our daily update is published. We’ve now tracked ~14.2 million tests, up 380k from yesterday.
Note that we can only track tests that a state reports.
— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) May 24, 2020
The project also demonstrates the lack of data by race or ethnicity in many states, which is an undercounting of our communities in critical situations.
“State-level statistics tell part of the story, but many US states are also deeply segregated—meaning different counties in the same state can have vastly different breakdowns by race and ethnicity,” the team explains on their website.
“Race and ethnicity data for COVID cases isn’t widely available at the county level, so we’re using two numbers we do have: the latest infection and death rates for each county, from a New York Times dataset, paired with the largest racial or ethnic group in that county, based on the Census Bureau’s 2018 ACS 5-Year estimates. The results are staggering.”