Gov. Wolf calls on all Pennsylvania health-care facilities to collect COVID-19 race data | Coronavirus | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Gov. Wolf calls on all Pennsylvania health-care facilities to collect COVID-19 race data

Throughout the U.S., Black communities have been hit particularly hard by coronavirus. In cities with large Black populations, like New Orleans, Detroit, and St. Louis, Black residents are dying and being hospitalized due to COVID-19 at higher rates than other races.

In Pennsylvania, there are some signs that Black populations have also faced hardships caused by the pandemic, but complete data has been lacking.

Yesterday during a press conference, Gov. Tom Wolf called for that to change. Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman asked health-care providers and medical facilities that are conducting tests to include race and ethnicity information in the data they provide to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“The goal for this task force is to help communicate issues with how the pandemic is affecting the state’s minority and vulnerable populations,” said Wolf.

“One of the problems we have is that we have heard how COVID-19 is hitting minority populations — in particular African Americans — hardest across the United States and anecdotally in Pennsylvania, but we lack the statistics needed to determine the severity of this issue here.”

Wolf also asked for more free and accessible testing for minority and vulnerable populations. He added that despite a mandate from the state health department saying coronavirus test must include race data, about 69% of race data is still unreported.

Allegheny County started to collect race data on April 11, including back data. As of today, 56% of positive coronavirus cases in Allegheny County are white, 18% are Black, a little over 1% are Asian, and 25% the race is unknown. Of hospitalizations, 68% are white, 23% are Black, and 2% are Asian.

Allegheny County is home to more than 1.2 million people. About 80% of the county's population is white, 13% is Black, 3.7% is Asian, and 2% is Latino.

To address any disparities, Wolf said that his office has started a Health Disparity Task Force. Fetterman, who is heading the task force, says it has held three meetings already and a consensus has emerged that the “biggest concerns heard from these communities are improving data collection and increasing access to free testing.”
The task force gained praise from Allegheny County’s Black state legislators. Today, State Reps. Austin Davis (D-McKeesport), Ed Gainey (D-East Liberty), Summer Lee (D-Swissvale), and Jake Wheatley (D-Hill District) wrote a letter to Wolf expressing support for the initiative.

“The COVID-19 pandemic — even in its earliest days — quickly shed light on many longstanding issues of inequality faced by minority communities,” said Davis in a press release. “Unfortunately, these are key issues these minority populations have dealt with for many years, COVID-19 just illuminated it for the rest of the state to see. So, while I’m hopeful and grateful for the institution of this task force, it’s my sincerest hope that this produces real results, saves lives and leads to longstanding change for Pennsylvania’s minority communities.”

The Health Disparity Task Force will prepare recommendations for Wolf to address the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in Pennsylvania’s minority and vulnerable communities. As of today, Pennsylvania has seen 43.264 positive cases of coronavirus, and 1,716 deaths. 

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