YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — There are growing concerns about apparent racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and medical experts are calling on more states to provide infection rates by race.  

When the coronavirus first hit the U.S., hospitals were focused on saving lives and learning more about fighting the virus. However they were not necessarily looking at the demographics of patients.

  • A Youngstown infectious diseases expert says most states haven't released demographic data on the race or ethnicity of people who've tested positive for the virus
  • She says more states need to provide data on the racial demographics of people who've tested positive 
  • She believes people of color should be included in clinical trials

Numbers provided by the Ohio Department of Health this week show 51 percent of the people who have tested positive for coronavirus in this state are white and 18 percent are African American. Two percent are multi-racial. Two percent are Asian, and two percent identified as "other." Yet race is not known for 25 percent of the cases.

Governor DeWine noted that the state is encouraging those who are tested to fill in that data.  

“Really, it’s been within the last week or so that all of a sudden we were waking up up to the fact that there are healthcare disparities with this disease primarily involving the African American community,” said Dr.Dee Banks.

Dr. Dee Banks is with Northeast Ohio Infectious Disease Associates in Youngstown. She says most states haven't released demographic data on the race or ethnicity of people who've tested positive for the virus. 

“We have a significant African American and Latino population and all of a sudden we have to now not only think about just trying to keep people alive, but trying to look at about statistics about who is affected,” said Dr. Banks.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, African American and Hispanic men and women are more likely to be employed in service occupations, rather than management or professional positions, compared to other races. Some of these types of jobs are low paying and are deemed "essential, " which means, in many cases, they can’t work remotely and can be more exposed to COVID-19. 

Additionally, African Americans and Hispanics with pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and lungs illnesses are more at risk. 

Clinical trials for a vaccine will soon begin and Dr. Banks believes people of color should be involved. 

“Hey, we gotta fix some of these number one underlying problems that have been here for many many years and now we have to look at when we want to do something about getting rid of this awful awful disease. Let’s get more African Americans and Latinos in clinical trials with the drugs and with the vaccines too,” Dr. Banks said. 

In her work as a physician, Dr. Banks has recently seen patients suffering from COVID-19.  She says has witnessed many societal health challenges over the years and hopes we can get through this crisis together. 

“I looked at a disease in 1990 that killed a number of individuals my age by a virus and now in 2020,  I’m looking at a virus that’s killing a number of people my age again,” she said.