The CDC’s tracking of COVID-19 tests has long shown staggering disparities between the share of Black and white Mainers who have tested positive for the disease, owing to health and economic systems that put Black families at greater risk.
As of June 24, Black Mainers had accounted for 11 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Maine, despite being just 1.4 percent of the population.[ii]
This new dataset further illustrates what we have already gleaned about the pandemic — namely that Black Mainers are at far greater risk that white Mainers. As of June 24, Black Mainers were 27 times as likely to have tested positive for Coronavirus as white Mainers, the worst disparity of any state. At least some of the disparity can be attributed to the fact that Black Mainers are disproportionately represented in frontline industries, such as health care.
Many experts prefer to track hospitalization or death data over the statistics on the number of cases, because case counts are dependent on the availability of testing, which has varied greatly across the country. Hospitalization provides a more consistent point at which cases are recorded, since people who are admitted to hospital with COVID-19 have similar sets of symptoms and levels of severity.
Unfortunately, while most states report the race and ethnicity of positive cases and deaths related to COVID-19, far fewer report the demographics of those hospitalized. Data from the federal COVID.NET tracker, which includes information from 100 counties across 14 states, finds that on an age-adjusted basis, Black Americans are more than four times as likely to have been hospitalized as white Americans.
Maine’s racial disparity in hospitalization rates is not only higher than the CDC multi-state figure, it is higher than any other New England state which has reported hospitalization demographics (Connecticut does not provide such information).
The racial disparities in COVID-19 trends — like those that are found in wealth and incomes, education, and incarceration rates — are rooted in policy decisions that for generations have privileged white families while putting up barriers that make it harder for Black Mainers to thrive. It is incumbent on political leaders and policymakers to assess the root cause of disparate outcomes along racial lines, and address those causes head-on with policies that advance racial equity.
[i] As of June 24, 284 white Mainers had been hospitalized for COVID-19, along with 36 Black Mainers. This means that for every 10,000 Black Mainers, 19 were hospitalized for COVID-19, compared to just 2.3 of every 10,000 white Mainers. Hospitalization rates were also slightly higher for Asian-Americans in Maine (3.8 per 10,000 residents).
[ii] The CDC has also reported the racial and ethnic composition of Mainers who have died from COVID-19, but the number of deaths (103 as of June 24) is too small for meaningful racial analysis.