Yet State of VT continues to say Covid worse for blacks than whites
by Gerry Silverstein
A frequent, if not the most common, statement made about COVID in Vermont is that the disease disproportionately impacts members of the BIPOC community, most especially Black people and African Americans (Bl-AAs).
The word disproportionate is a descriptor that often leads one to believe or conclude that the group(s) being referred to experiences the greatest harm associated with COVID.
The disproportionate assessment is offered by members of the Legislature and the Vermont Department of Health (VDOH), as well as VTDigger journalists who appear committed to the belief that the case rate (of infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the cause of COVID) per 10,000 residents of different demographic groups in Vermont is the measure that best defines the impact of the COVID epidemic in Vermont.
Let’s ask the obvious question. Is it true that COVID disproportionately impacts members of the BIPOC community in Vermont, most especially people described as Black or African Americans?
The answer: it depends upon what statistics you review and how you interpret those statistics.
In the latest biweekly report of the VDOH the case rate (where a “case” is defined as a positive test result for SARS-CoV-2 virus infection) per 10,000 Black or African Americans in Vermont is listed as 1089.6. The case rate for people described as White is 453.5 per 10,000.
Those numbers show that the case rate per 10,000 population is more than twice as high for Black or African Americans in Vermont compared to White people. But what are the actual numbers of infections (as opposed to rate per 10,000 residents)?
On Sept. 22, the VDOH COVID Dashboard showed 28,673 people in Vermont described as White had been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (cumulatively since data collection first started in early March 2020). 956 people listed as Bl-AA had been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
So although the rate of infections per 10,000 residents in Vermont is more than twice as great for Bl-AAs, it is nonetheless true that for every Bl-AA in Vermont who has been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, about 30 Vermonters listed as White have been infected.
It is essential to understand that a case means only that someone has tested positive for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus components (usually the viral RNA).
A positive result says absolutely nothing about whether the person has symptoms, or will ever develop symptoms. Indeed 30-45% of individuals infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus will remain asymptomatic and, of the remainder, most will show minor to moderate symptoms.
Are there other measures that detail the impact of COVID on people living in Vermont that address more directly the magnitude of suffering and harm?
The two measures that I believe offer the best assessment for the magnitude of the impact of COVID on different groups are hospitalizations and death. I will focus on deaths.
There is no recovery from death. Nothing is more final than death. Humans are infected frequently by many different viruses and in most cases they recover uneventfully. Unfortunately and tragically recovery does not always occur.
What do COVID death statistics in Vermont detail? As of Sept 22, 276 people listed as White had died from or with COVID, while 3 people listed as Bl-AA had died in association with COVID. For every Bl-AA in Vermont who died from or with COVID, 92 people in Vermont listed as White had died from or with COVID.
If aggregate suffering and death is most important, then White people in Vermont have been the group most clearly devastated by the pandemic.
In spite of the COVID “death ratio” in Vermont being 92:1 (White to Bl-AA) as of Sept. 22, members of the Legislature, the VDOH, Vermont news organizations, and many others continue to both emphasize and define COVID in Vermont as a disease that has disproportionately impacted members of the BIPOC community, most especially Bl-AAs.
These individuals and organizations continue to believe that being infected by a virus, even if totally asymptomatic, is a more informative measure of the impact of COVID in Vermont than death.
Think about that.
Instead of looking at infection rate per 10,000 let’s look at percentages of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in Vermont associated with COVID.
As of Sept 22 people listed as White represented 90.7% of infections by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (cumulatively) in Vermont, 94% of hospitalizations, and 95.5% of deaths (statistics from the VDOH daily Dashboard and the VDOH biweekly summary).
According to the 2020 Census, 89.8% of Vermonters are listed as White.
Based upon the latest census data the conclusion is inescapable: as of Sept 22 people listed as White in Vermont have been disproportionately infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, disproportionately hospitalized due to severe infection, and have disproportionately died in association with COVID in comparison to their population representation.
But according to members of the Legislature, the VDOH, Vermont news organizations, and others COVID is viewed primarily as disproportionately impacting members of the BIPOC community, most especially Black and African Americans in Vermont.
It is a perspective that does not accurately represent what the statistics are actually declaring about the magnitude of the suffering that White people, the predominant demographic group in Vermont, have experienced to date.
Part II tomorrow: why are 1,796 people in VT Covid stats once classified as “White” now classified as “Other”?
The author, a South Burlington resident, is a virologist who taught courses related to human health and disease at UVM for 22 years.