Across Texas and the nation, the novel coronavirus is deadlier for people of color

Juan Lopez wheels a stretcher out of the back of his vehicle in McAllen. Across Texas and the nation, the novel coronavirus is deadlier for communities of color and low-income communities. (Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune)
Juan Lopez wheels a stretcher out of the back of his vehicle in McAllen. Across Texas and the nation, the novel coronavirus is deadlier for communities of color and low-income communities. (Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune)

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Texas’ southernmost county, Cameron, is home to just 1.5% of the state’s population, but it accounts for nearly 5% of its known COVID-19 fatalities.

Cameron County — where 89% of residents are Hispanic and nearly a third live below the poverty line — stands out as just one stark example of widespread disparities in COVID-19 outcomes. Across Texas and the nation, the novel coronavirus is deadlier for communities of color and low-income communities.

These disparities, and a wealth of other demographic information, became more apparent this week when new tallying methods at the state health agency revealed a more complete picture of who has died in Texas and where. Trends showing that Black and Hispanic individuals had been disproportionately hit by the virus were clear nationally and apparent in local snapshots, but until earlier this week, the Texas Department of State Health Services’ limited demographic data had clouded the picture of those disparities statewide.

Hispanic Texans make up about 40% of the state’s population, but they account for 48% of its known COVID-19 fatalities. Black Texans also appear slightly overrepresented in the fatality toll, representing 14% of fatalities but just 12% of the state population. Texas reported a total of 6,190 deaths Wednesday evening, an increase of 313 from the day before.

By contrast, white and Asian Texans died at lower rates relative to their share of the state’s population.

Sometimes called the great equalizer, the novel coronavirus has been anything but — a deadly reality in a state like Texas, where the Hispanic population is expected to become the largest group in the state by mid-2021.

The disparities should not have been a surprise, said Jamboor Vishwanatha, director of the Texas Center for Health Disparities at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.