Black community leaders call on Allegheny County to collect race data for COVID-19 | Coronavirus | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Black community leaders call on Allegheny County to collect race data for COVID-19

click to enlarge Jasiri X (top left), Cheryl Hall-Russell (top right), Jamil Bey (bottom left), and Tiffany Gary-Webb (bottom right) at the April 7 virtual town hall - SCREENSHOT FROM FACEBOOK
Screenshot from Facebook
Jasiri X (top left), Cheryl Hall-Russell (top right), Jamil Bey (bottom left), and Tiffany Gary-Webb (bottom right) at the April 7 virtual town hall
In a virtual town hall held on Facebook on April 7, a group of Black community leaders in Pittsburgh called on county, state, and federal officials to collect race data related to coronavirus infections and deaths.

Other states and jurisdictions have been collecting some coronavirus data related to race, and they have shown the infections and deaths have hit Black people particularly hard in places like Chicago, New Orleans, and Michigan.

“If we can use the data, we need it at the neighborhood level, by race, by gender, so we can use mitigation for the next [pandemic],” said Jamil Bey, president of the UrbanKind Institute. “This is an epic failure from the top.”


A group of Black leaders including Bey, University of Pittsburgh associate professor Tiffany Gary-Webb, nonprofit consultant Cheryl Hall-Russell, and 1Hood Media head Jasiri X, met for a virtual town hall to share with Black Pittsburghers what they need to know about coronavirus.

One of the points all four agreed on was the need for race data to be collected in relation to COVID-19. Allegheny County hasn’t been providing coronavirus data on race, but has been breaking down cases by age, gender, and location. The Pennsylvania Health Department has not provided data by race, and neither has the federal government.

“It is impacting our neighborhoods and Black people in our country are very different than the majority community,” said Hall-Russell.

In Chicago, data is showing that Black people are dying from coronavirus at nearly six times the rate of white people. In New York and California, Latinos, including Black Latinos, are experiencing disproportionated negative health outcomes related to coronavirus.


In Allegheny County, which is about 12% Black, it’s yet unclear how coronavirus is affecting the Black community. In a tweet on April 7, the Allegheny County Health Department acknowledged its lack of racial data and said that some demographic data has been collected but it is incomplete.
Recently, Allegheny County did start to show data by Pittsburgh neighborhoods that may provide some insight on how race data for coronavirus. For example, the predominantly Black neighborhoods of Homewood and the Hill District have a small number of reported cases. But Glen Hazel is leading the county in the percentage of cases per 10,000 residents, and Glen Hazel is 58% Black.

Jasiri X said during the town hall that the group will be talking to the Allegheny County Health Department about how they can collect the data and whether that can be done in other methods like tracking the locations by zip codes.

“The bus drivers, the nurses, a lot of times it is our community having to go out,” said Jasiri X. “We have the poorest working-class Black community in the entire country. It is alarming that we are not tracking this.”

Hall-Russell suggested that United Way, which is working with the county to handle coronavirus 2-1-1 requests, ask about race when taking coronavirus calls. “It is a simple add on, and needs to be asked,” said Hall-Russell.

She also acknowledged that some in the community could have been stricter on others in the community who continued to play basketball or set up playdates during the pandemic.


“There was some of the lag that affected our community. But this is real,” said Hall-Russell, who shared that she recently lost a friend of 35 years who died due to complications from coronavirus.

Gary-Webb said it is crucial to get this information as quickly as possible since coronavirus is moving so rapidly that data from even just two weeks becomes obsolete.

The group also discussed myths and warned viewers about easy cures, which can give a false sense of security. They encouraged everyone to follow proper social distancing guidelines and to wear masks if they have to go outside.

Gary-Webb noted that Allegheny County’s social distancing efforts appear to be working, as the county’s hospitalizations and cases are relatively low.

“Stay home if you can, take all the precautions that you can,” said Gary-Webb.

Hall-Russell said they would be conducting these town halls weekly, and should have another event next week. More information can be found at 1Hood Media’s Facebook page.

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