CDC failed to capture true toll of Covid on minorities

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) participates in a news conference with other Democratic Senators at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 20, 2020.

Erin Scott | Reuters

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to clarify and revise its estimates for the risk posed to communities of color by Covid-19.

CNBC obtained a copy of a letter the Massachusetts Democrat sent last week to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield that says “by failing to adjust COVID-19 mortality rates by age in its public data releases, the CDC may not be providing an accurate assessment of the increased risk of death and serious illness for communities of color relative to white Americans of the same age.”

“In the United States, age, race, and ethnicity are intertwined; people of color are, on average, significantly younger than non-Hispanic white Americans—an interaction the CDC has largely ignored in its communication about COVID-19 mortality rates,” Warren wrote in the letter dated Nov. 10.

A representative for the CDC did not immediately return CNBC’s request for comment.

Warren cited one page in particular on the CDC’s site that says Black people are 2.1 times more likely to die of Covid than White Americans. The page also says Hispanic Americans are 1.1 times more likely to die of and Native Americans are 1.4 times more likely to die of Covid compared with White Americans.

But Warren said this messaging and other infographics produced by the CDC “do not tell the full story.” The senator pointed to an analysis conducted by research firm APM Research Lab, which adjusted for differences in age between the racial and ethnic groups and “found significantly wider gaps in the overall mortality.”

“Using this age-adjusted race and ethnicity data, analysts observed mortality rates that were 3.2 times higher for Black Americans, 3.2 times higher for Latino Americans, 3.1 times higher for Native American and Alaska Native people, 2.4 times higher for Pacific Islanders, and 1.2 times higher for Asian Americans compared to non-Hispanic white Americans,” Warren wrote.

In addition to analyzing the gaps in risk of death, the CDC should conduct a separate analysis of years of potential life lost, because the virus appears to be killing younger people of color than it is White people, Warren said.

“The fact that the average age among communities of color is much younger than that of nonHispanic white Americans makes the disproportionate number of deaths among communities of color all the more disturbing,” she wrote. “To date, the CDC has not consistently articulated risks and has not provided full and complete information on the degree to which age and race or ethnicity interact to inflate the risk of COVID-19 mortality for communities of color.”

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