Cape Cod Reopening Task Force Sees Racial Disparity in COVID-19 Cases

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HYANNIS – The Cape Cod Reopening Task Force says that they are seeing a racial disparity in COVID-19 data in Barnstable County.

According to the data from the Center for Disease Control there is a three to one rate of racial disparity when it comes to COVID-19 in Barnstable County.

“It is very alarming in the context of Barnstable County,” said Cape and Islands State Senator and task force member Julian Cyr.  

The data was made available from the CDC and is accurate through May 31.

Per the findings, 49 percent of the cases that are reported in Barnstable County have racial and demographic data recorded.

“This data is not fully complete but the picture it’s showing is pretty stark as it relates to proportional reporting by race as to who is affected by COVID-19,” continued Cyr.

Cry noted that having delayed access to this data is an issue.

“I think it’s critical that we get better access to public health surveillance data,” said Cyr.  

“When we see a health disparity that is this stark, it’s hard to deny its significance.”    

Cry said he believes there are several reason for the disparity, including inadequate or lack of access to health care coverage.

According to a study done by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts in 2019, Massachusetts has the highest level of uninsured residents.

The study shows that more than 40 percent of the uninsured are undocumented residents.

“Individuals who contract the virus or may have symptoms of the virus and are not connected into the primary care system often cannot access care and treatment,” said Cyr.

He believes that another factor in the disparity is housing, specifically overcrowding in housing.

“The housing shortage on Cape has meant that low income, migrant, and seasonal workforce are forced to share scarce resources which does lead to overcrowding in our housing,” Cyr said.  

“Based on what we know on the behavior of the virus this behavior is conducive to the spread.”

The real estate market on Cape Cod is geared toward second homes and there is not much housing production in the region, according to Cyr.

“Social distancing and self-isolation is a luxury that those who are living in crowded housing units cannot afford,” said Cyr.

“I tend to think that this dis-proportionally effects people of color, and migrant workers.”

The essential work force is also believed to be a reason for the disparity.

According to the data, 43 percent of all essential workers are people of color.

Many of the reported cases are also believed to be in long-term care facilities.

The task force said that moving forward they will be working to address these disparities and gather more data on the topic.  

“It’s a discussion that cannot stop after the reopening or in between spikes,” said Jerry Fishbein Vice President of 1199 SEIU and a member of the task force.  

“It’s an issue that people have been talking about now and we have been talking about too long.”

Cyr echoed Fishbein’s words.

“The data we have in Barnstable County showing a three to one disparity between black and white people in Barnstable County is alarming, it’s unacceptable, and it’s something that we need to get to the bottom of,” said Cyr.

About Luke Leitner

Luke Leitner grew up in Watertown Massachusetts and now lives in West Yarmouth on the Cape. He has been a part of the news team in the News Center since the spring of 2019. He studied business communications at Western New England University.
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