Minnesota officials highlight disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people of color

    Armando Solis, a janitor at U.S. Bank Plaza, died from COVID-19 on April 22. Photo courtesy of the family.

    Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Friday sounded the alarm on the racial disparities emerging in the state’s COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates. 

    With a recent expansion in testing, state health officials are seeing disproportionate rates of COVID-19 among the state’s Black and Latino populations.

    “This public health crisis is exposing and exacerbating the racial, economic and educational inequities that have been here all along,” Flanagan said during the daily COVID-19 media briefing. 

    Malcolm said Black residents make up 6.6% of the state’s population but make up nearly 17% of all COVID-19 cases, and more than 19% of hospitalizations. Latinos meanwhile are 5.5% of the population but account for nearly 14% of cases and about 9% of hospitalizations. The state’s racial and ethnic data still has significant gaps, with race data missing in 33% of COVID-19 cases and 24% of deaths. 

    “We do know that people of color and Native Americans are experiencing multiple inequities in income, housing, employment,” Malcolm said, saying underlying health conditions like diabetes and asthma “puts them at significantly higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”

    Malcolm said people of color comprise a significant share of essential workers. Meatpacking plants, where immigrants and refugees have often found work, have experienced large outbreaks. Many personal care attendants are women of color, Malcolm said. 

    Flanagan is co-leading a working group with Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero and other state leaders to ensure immigrants, refugees and other communities of color are considered in the state’s emergency response. 

    She drew attention to the higher unemployment rates affecting Latino and Black Minnesotans.

    Flanagan said that more than one in four people of color in the state’s labor force have applied for unemployment insurance. Disaggregated by ethnicity, that translates to nearly 30% of Native Americans, 21% of Latinos, 22.4% of Asian and 31% of Black Minnesotans in the labor force that have applied for unemployment.

    Ricardo Lopez
    Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.