The Iowa Department of Public Health published its first breakdowns of deaths from COVID-19 by race, ethnicity and gender on Monday. Until this week, IDPH had maintained there had not yet been enough deaths in the state to produce statistically significant data regarding demographics.
The data published reflected the total of 188 deaths reported to IDPH on May 3, and shared with the public on May 4.
Iowa’s population is 90.7 white, according to the most recent estimates of the U.S. Census Bureau. But IDPH’s data shows white Iowans accounted for 53.2 percent of the state’s total number of COVID-19 cases as of May 3. That’s a decrease of 20 percentage points from when the state first published its statistics on COVID-19 cases by race and ethnicity on April 1.
According to IDPH, white Iowans account for 79 percent of the state’s 188 deaths from COVID-19.
Black Iowans, who make up 4 percent of the state’s population, accounted for 8.7 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases on April 1. That number has now risen to 13.1 percent. Black Iowans also make up 7 percent of the state’s virus fatalities, according to the data published Monday.
Hispanic and Latino Iowans are 5.9 percent of the population, but on April 1, they accounted for 16.7 percent of Iowa’s COVID-19 cases. That number has now grown to 22.7 percent. But according to the mortality statistics published by IDPH, there is no large discrepancy when it comes to deaths from the virus. Hispanics and Latinos account for 6 percent of the state’s 188 deaths.
Iowans of Asian or Pacific Islander descent make up 2.7 percent and 0.1 percent of the state’s population, respectively. The state’s numbers on the impact of COVID-19 on those groups is less clear. IDPH has only recently changed the name of a category in data on cases by race from “Asian” to “Asian or Pacific Islander.”
Although those two groups combined are just 2.8 percent of the population, they accounted for 8.9 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases by May. The groups are separated in the death statistics published by IDPH. The seven Iowans of Asian descent who had died by May 3 represent 7 percent of the state’s facilities. IDPH also reports three deaths in a category labeled “Native Hawaiian.” Those deaths equal 2 percent of the state’s total.
At her press conference following the first publication of IDPH’s racial and ethnic data for the number of people infected with COVID-19, Gov. Reynolds was asked what her administration was doing to address the racial and ethnic discrepancies the data documented.
“We’re still looking at the trends,” Reynolds replied. She added, “I think it’s consistent, maybe not at the higher rate, with what we’re seeing in some of the states across the country.”
Reynolds then turned the question over to IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter.
“I think that we are still just in the process of kind of analyzing the data,” Reisetter said. “I think what we’re seeing in Iowa is consistent with what we have seen across the country in terms of increased rates. And I think that some of the reasons and the explanations for some of those increased rates is that we know that there’s a higher incidence of underlying health conditions that make these particular populations more susceptible to serious COVID complications.”
“We also know that we have larger numbers of these populations that work in businesses that have not been ordered to close at this time, such as food manufacturing businesses,” she continued. “And then we also know that there’s a higher incidence of more density in housing among these populations that does make isolation during illness more difficult and increases the risk of the spread within a household, where we know the virus does tend to spread quickly and easily.”
Neither Reisetter or the governor mentioned some of the factors experts in other states have said could account for higher rates of COVID-19 in people of color. Among other factors, members of minority communities have less access to regular heath care, typically experience higher degrees of stress in everyday life (which can depress the immune system) and often live in areas where healthy food options are in short supply.
The information published on Monday also contained a breakdown by gender. Women account for 53 percent of Iowa’s COVID-19 deaths. That goes against a trend which has been documented in 33 countries around the world that report deaths from the virus by gender. In those countries, men are dying at higher rates than women.
Statistics on deaths from COVID-19 by race, ethnicity and gender for the United States as a whole are not available because of the inconsistencies among states in reporting such data.