Black and Hispanic West Virginians are still being affected at a higher rate by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the state recorded its highest total of daily positive cases multiple times this week.
Non-white West Virginians made up more than 20% of total positive cases as of Friday evening, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, despite making up less than 7% of the state’s total estimated population.
On May 8, minorities comprised 18.3% of positive cases.
Hispanic West Virginians are nearly 14% of positive cases in the eastern region of the state, said Dr. James Arnaez, the lead epidemiologist at the West Virginia Health Statistics Center. The most recent numbers were accurate as of Tuesday, Arnaez said during Thursday’s minority health task force meeting.
The eastern region is made up of Berkeley, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral, Morgan, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph and Tucker counties.
The statewide average number of positive cases per 100,000 residents is 192, Arnaez said. For Hispanic West Virginians in the eastern region, that number is 1,436 positive cases per 100,000 residents.
Statewide, the average rate for Hispanic residents is 662.
For residents designated as “other” races, which includes the Hispanic population, the rate is 2,517 per 100,000.
“I checked to see what rates other states are seeing, and that’s close to what we’ve seen in New York City,” Arnaez said.
Black West Virginians have seen a small surge in positive cases during the past few weeks, and Arnaez said he expects that number to continue to increase.
The average age for COVID-19 infections has “dropped fairly substantially,” Arnaez said. The statewide average is 37; for Black people, the average age is 26 and for Hispanic residents it’s 33.
Recent cases for Black people are being found predominantly in the eastern and northeastern regions, Arnaez said. The northeastern region includes Barbour, Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston and Taylor counties.
The average hospitalization rate for West Virginia — 10% — is much higher for Black West Virginians, who are hospitalized in 15.6% of cases, Arnaez said. For Hispanic residents, the hospitalization rate is 5.2%.
An average of 4% of positive cases have required an ICU visit, Arnaez said. That number is 5.8% for Black people, but 1.6% for Hispanic people. Two percent of cases on average have required a ventilator — the number is 4% for Black residents.
“Starting around [June 21], we’re seeing new cases per week at levels that really haven’t seen since early April, which kind of shows us that we’re seeing this come back pretty strongly, Arnaez said, echoing recent concerns raised by Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar.
Arnaez said the sharp increases in white West Virginians testing positive “are probably the most stark reflection” of the severity of COVID-19 in the state. White residents make up 3,079 of the state’s 3,872 total positive cases as of Friday, including 394 cases from June 29 to July 5.
Black and Hispanic Americans are over-represented in jobs that have been deemed essential, which has contributed to the disproportionate toll COVID-19 has taken on minority communities across the country, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and “long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put some members of racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness, regardless of age.”