by Gerry Silverstein
This is part two of a commentary about how the Vermont Department of Health and other state officials have employed statistics about race to buttress Covid-19-related positions. Part One, “Vermont blacks suffer fewer deaths and hospitalizations per capita than whites,” was published Monday September 27.
After Sept. 22 the story of COVID statistic reporting in Vermont takes a mystifying turn (for me anyway).
On Sept 24 new numbers appeared on the VDOH daily COVID Dashboard, although they were at odds with numbers in the Sept 24 biweekly data summary of the VDOH that is updated through Sept. 22.
The cumulative number of people living in Vermont listed as White who had had a positive test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus since the pandemic arrived in Vermont decreased by 1,796 (from 28,673 on Sept 22 to 26,877 on Sept 24).
Correspondingly, the number of people listed as “Other” increased from 789 (Sept 22) to 3,778 (Sept 24), an increase of 2989 individuals which represents a 379% increase!
As a percentage of people living in Vermont who had been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, people listed as White on Sept 24 represented 82.4% of infections (a decrease from 90.7% on Sept. 22). The revised percentage is below the 89.8% representation of the Vermont population that is White according to the 2020 census data.
Conclusion: White people as of Sept 24 are no longer “disproportionately” infected by the virus, whereas two days earlier they were.
So what exactly is the category of “Other”?
According to the VDOH: “Other” Race includes people who identify as two or more races, or a race other than white, Asian, African American or Black, and American Indian or Alaskan Native.
The VDOH often updates data. As new information is acquired revisions are made to already listed statistics. That is good science and good epidemiology.
But what documentation facilitated moving 1,796 people originally classified as White in Vermont, and who tested positive for viral infection, into the category of “Other”. Where did this documentation come from and why was it not available previously?
Additionally, where did an additional 1,193 cases come from that were newly added to the category of “Other” (remember total increase in the “Other” category between Sept 22 and Sept 24 was 2,989)? A few additional cases could be explained, but almost 1200?
Where those cases came from I do not know, and I could not find an explanation for how a decision was made to re-classify 1,796 people originally listed as White into the category of “Other”. There may be an explanation but I could not find it.
However even with the re-classification, deaths occurring in association with COVID in people classified as White (92.4% on Sept 24 and 91.9% on Sept 26) still exceed their proportional representation according to the 2020 census (89.8% of the population).
As deaths are the most defining assessment criteria of any infection, the fact remains that COVID is disproportionately impacting (total deaths and aggregate suffering) people listed as White in the State of Vermont.
Abraham Lincoln said: “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men”.
It is long past time to speak truth to justice when responding to the continuing description of COVID in Vermont as disproportionately impacting members of the BIPOC community, most especially people who are Black or African Americans.
Such an assessment made by legislators, members of the medical and public health professions, Vermont news agencies, and numerous others is, in this citizen’s opinion, an egregious example of racial animus towards human beings classified as White people.
It is offensive and it should not be tolerated.
The author, a South Burlington resident, is a virologist who taught courses related to human health and disease at UVM for 22 years.