We need timely, complete reporting of COVID-19 race and ethnicity data

The Alaska Black Caucus Allies for Change group is calling on Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum to prioritize the timely collection and complete reporting of race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 testing and infections in Alaska, as mandated by federal law.

We know that Black and Indigenous people and people of color are experiencing disproportionate rates of infection, morbidity, and mortality from COVID-19 in communities across the country. In the United States, Black people are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to white people.

Alaska is not immune. As recently reported by the ADN, there are disproportionate rates of infection among Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander populations and disproportionate rates of hospitalization among Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders in Alaska.

However, lack of complete race and ethnicity data reported in real time prevents us from knowing and responding to the full extent of racism-based disparities locally. At this time, about half of reported COVID-19 cases in Alaska are still missing data for race and ethnicity. Alaska ranks below many states for completeness of race and ethnicity data by case. Additionally, Alaska does not currently report race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 testing.

Only six states in the U.S. have released race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 testing. We want Alaska to be among them. Without this data, we cannot know if our testing is representative of state demographics nor can we identify drivers of existing disparities which further prevents community-based efforts to address these issues in real time.

ACLU of Alaska urged Gov. Dunleavy and Commissioner Crum to collect and report more complete race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 cases four months ago, in April. The Alaska Black Caucus Allies for Change group has also reached out to HSS throughout the summer to prioritize this work.

To date, the state has not adequately addressed gaps and delays in reporting this vital information. We continue to receive promises of improvement at a later date as the gaps and delays continue to grow.

We are proud to live in a state with the highest COVID-19 testing per capita in the country. We are grateful for our friends and family members who are working hard as health care providers, at testing sites, and as contact tracers.

We also know that in order to address racism as a public health crisis and achieve health equity for all Alaskans, we must work together to dismantle institutional racism in health care and public health systems. We can and should begin by immediately prioritizing accurate, timely and complete reporting of race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 tests and infections in our state. To do otherwise would undermine the possibility of a healthier future.

To show your support for this important work, please consider signing our letter by visiting http://bit.ly/akcovid19dataopenletter.

This commentary was jointly authored by the members of the Alaska Black Caucus Allies for Change: Danyelle Kimp, Leon Jaimes, Allison Hourigan, Mark Foster, Rachel Blakeslee, Megan Cacciola, Ginny Grabowski, Jason Slemons, Laurie Fernandes, Joshua Branstetter, David Walberg, Edgar Blatchford, Dana Dardis, Nolan Klouda, Toni Biskup, Criss Mitchell, Regan Brooks, Anthony Nakazawa, Carol Paredes, Jyoti Chadda, Katharine Brooks, Kaelan Dickinson, Rev. Michael Burke and Ryan Brooks. To join the Alaska Black Caucus and the Allies for Change group and to learn more about its current actions, visit the Alaska Black Caucus online.

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