Black and Hispanic Delawareans are being infected with the coronavirus at a drastically higher rate than white residents, reflecting a grim nationwide trend, according to data released by the state Friday.
The rate of COVID-19 cases among Hispanic and black residents is 60.1 per 10,000 people and 46.1 per 10,000 people, respectively, according to the data. This is significantly higher than the infection rate among white Delawareans, which is 13.9 per 10,000.
The release of this data is the first time in the six weeks of the coronavirus outbreak that state officials have released any data about how COVID-19 is affecting minorities. Across the country, the virus has disproportionately infected and killed people of color, particularly black Americans.
State officials said earlier this month that more than half of the labs performing the tests did not ask or require these questions. It led to Gov. John Carney requiring this data on every test kit.
But according to the data released Friday, the state does not know the race of about 25% of the total number of confirmed cases.
Health Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker said Friday that she expects this number to decrease in the coming weeks as the state gets more demographic information on additional tests.
"Whether we'll be able to fill that in," Carney said during the press briefing, "we're certainly going to act on the data that we have and some of the things that we know."
In addition to increasing testing in Sussex County, Carney said Friday that more testing will be focused on areas in New Castle County, like the Route 9 corridor, where there is a higher proportion of people of color and less access to health care.
The Rev. Christopher Bullock, pastor at Caanan Baptist Church, which is located along the Route 9 corridor, said he wasn't surprised to see the state data. He pointed to the food deserts throughout Delaware and the high rates of diabetes, heart disease, over-incarceration and unemployment that plague communities of color.
"Now on top of that, we have COVID-19," he said, "which magnifies existing problems that were already embedded in our community for decades – not only in Delaware but throughout Black America."
Bullock said his church has stepped in during this difficult time to make sure his congregation knows where to go when they are in need of food and other resources.
He pointed to the free community testing offered at Henrietta Johnson Medical Center in Southbridge as an important step for the community. The need for testing in black and brown communities is great, he said, but residents also need notice for when these resources will be coming to the places they call home.
At last week's testing event, Bullock said many only found out the day before. This week, where more notice was given, the line at the Southbridge location wrapped around the block. Some even brought chairs to sit while they waited.
Many in the community who came because they were showing symptoms of COVID-19 lamented the long lines – but it pointed to the need that Bullock said continues to grow, right alongside larger issues that have been further exacerbated during the pandemic.
"Look around Route 9. Do we have a grocery store? No. A bank? No. A health clinic? No," he said. "Yet that Route 9 corridor is one of the hardest-hit areas in Delaware."
"My concern is now that you have the data, we need the resources," Bullock said. "This is not a political ploy. This is life and death."
Carney said the percentage of tests performed on black residents is higher than the percentage in the population.
"It would really concern me if the rate was less than the distribution of the population," he said.
It was announced Friday that a free coronavirus screening and testing will be held at the Route 9 Library parking lot from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. Residents can either drive or walk through and should be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Food will also be available, according to the event flyer.
ChristianaCare will also offer free screening at the Kingswood Community Center in Wilmington from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Of the total number of cases, 28% of black residents have been infected with the virus, while 26% of white residents and 15% of Hispanic residents have been infected.
But more white residents have died from complications related to the coronavirus than any other race group combined.
Of the 100 deaths confirmed by the state, 61% of the cases have involved white residents, 24% have been black residents and 4% have been Hispanic residents, according to the data.
Statewide, health officials have confirmed 3,442 cases of the virus as of Friday, April 24. In recent weeks, Sussex County has seen a rise in cases at an alarming rate. It has led to the state focusing more attention on outreach efforts in this area, especially as cases continue to surge.
Delaware Online/The News Journal found that the growth rate of COVID-19 cases in Sussex County is more than double New Castle County's, once adjusted for population size. The number of cases in Sussex County is also doubling faster than it is in New Castle County.
Small towns – like Seaford and Georgetown – have reported some of the highest number of cases statewide.
In Hispanic and Haitian immigrant communities in Sussex County, health care workers, advocates and elected officials say those residents face many challenges, including language barriers.
Many of those residents also work in chicken processing plants, which requires them to stand close together, not adhering to social distancing guidelines.
This week, the state began rapid coronavirus testing at Delaware chicken processing plants, which employ more than 6,000 people and offer contract work to hundreds of local farmers in Sussex County.
Officials said it will help the state better understand how common asymptomatic spread is in Sussex County.
Only two companies in Delaware – Mountaire Farms and Perdue Farms – have publicly confirmed cases: two at Perdue’s Milford plant and one at Mountaire’s Selbyville plant.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 27 previously told The News Journal that officials at Mountaire’s Selbyville plant informed the union there have been 16 confirmed cases.
Additional cases at these plants have not been announced publicly.
Carney said Friday that the state could not publicly provide the specific number
of confirmed cases associated with the processing plants at this time, but he indicated he might do so in the future.
He said the number of confirmed cases to come from testing at the plants, which on Friday was not included in the state's total count, is "very high."