Analysis from Jessica Carson, Ph.D. and Sarah Boege at Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire and commissioned by the John T. Gorman Foundation
This section provides details on COVID-19 cases by race and ethnicity as of July 14, 2020 for each New England state. These data are from the COVID Racial Data Tracker, a national project that compiles racial and ethnic data from every state reporting such information. The COVID Racial Data Tracker is a collaboration between the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research.
Share of COVID-19 Cases by Race and Ethnicity in Maine
Figure 1 shows the share of COVID-19 cases by race and ethnicity in Maine (for all cases with available racial and ethnic data) alongside respective shares of the population. As of July 14, the state of Maine had reported race data for 89 percent of cases and ethnicity data for 83 percent. This level of data completeness and other related factors have earned Maine a grade of “A+” for data quality, according to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, one of three New England states and one of 17 states nationally to score this highly.
About one percent of Mainers identify as Black or African American. However, more than one-in-four Maine COVID-19 patients with available racial data identified as Black or African American. Based on the COVID Racial Data Tracker’s criteria,1 a racial disparity is likely.
Racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 cases are also likely for those identifying as Asian and those identifying as Hispanic or Latinx in Maine. Accounting for 1 and 2 percent of Maine’s population, respectively, these groups make up 3 and 5 percent of COVID-19 cases with racial and ethnic data available. In contrast, although 94 percent of Mainers identify as white, just 67 percent of Maine COVID-19 patients with racial data available identified that way.
Recently, The New York Times published county-level COVID-19 case data by race and ethnicity that they obtained (via lawsuit) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although the CDC has requested that state and local agencies collect specific data on COVID-19 cases, including race and ethnicity, in practice, these data are collected unevenly across agencies. As a result, more than half of all COVID-19 cases recorded in the federal CDC dataset are missing race and ethnicity data. For Maine, these data are only available for eight counties: Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, Oxford, Penobscot, Somerset, Waldo, and York Counties. Although these data cannot paint a full picture within Maine, counties reporting any cases among Black residents (Androscoggin, Cumberland, and York Counties) all record higher proportions of Black residents testing positive for COVID-19 as compared to white residents in these same counties. The disparity was widest in Androscoggin County, where COVID-19 rates among white residents were seven cases per 10,000, compared to 237 cases per 10,000 Black residents.
Share of COVID-19 Cases by Race and Ethnicity across New England.
Similar patterns of likely racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 cases exist across New England (Table 1). In fact, likely racial and ethnic disparities were found in every New England state for both the Black or African American racial group and the Hispanic or Latinx ethnicity. In both Maine and Vermont, the COVID Racial Data Tracker also found that those identifying as Asian are likely facing racial disparities.
For Black New Englanders, the starkest difference in population share and share of cases is in Maine (1 percent of the state population, 26 percent of cases). However, in all New England states except for Connecticut, Black residents account for a share of COVID-19 cases at least double their respective share of the state population. For those identifying as Hispanic or Latinx, their share of COVID-19 cases is at least twice their respective share of the population in four of the six states—Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
In all New England states, Black or African American residents and Hispanic or Latinx residents face racial disparities in COVID-19 caseloads compared with their prevalence in the population. As many researchers have described—including in this piece from the Economic Policy Institute—entrenched, structural inequities have made Black and Hispanic/Latinx people more vulnerable to the pandemic’s health effects as well as to its related economic impacts. Persistent and systemic racial and ethnic disparities in housing quality, income and wages, industry of employment, poverty, health care access, and health status, among others, all contribute to the racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 cases. As policy and practice move to address the immediate effects of the pandemic, it is crucial to consider these underlying disparities both to better understand the present crisis and to develop lasting solutions.
1 The COVID Racial Data Tracker flags a group’s case proportion as a likely racial/ethnic disparity when it meets the following three criteria: (1) is at least 33% higher than the Census Percentage of Population; (2) remains elevated whether they include or exclude cases/deaths with unknown race/ethnicity; and (3) is based on at least 30 actual cases or deaths.