In partnership with the USA TODAY network, the Documenting Impact project has published the latest in its Uncounted series: “The ‘Uncounted:’ People of color are dying at much higher rates than what COVID data suggests.”
This is the result of a six-month-long project, led by reporter Betsy Ladyzhets, with local reporting partners, the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, Willamette Week and the Texas Observer. And it represents the second full year of their continuing work looking at death certificate errors during the pandemic, and how bad data skews public health response.
Among the findings:
- Unspecific, unknown deaths rose 10 times more among Black, Hispanic and Indigenous people than among white Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In Arizona’s Navajo and Apache counties, which share territory with Navajo Nation, COVID deaths among Native Americans drove nation-leading excess death rates in 2020 and 2021. While COVID death rates among Natives dropped during the second year of the pandemic thanks to local health efforts, other causes of death such as car accidents and alcohol poisoning increased significantly from 2020 to 2021.
- In Portland, deaths from causes indirectly related to the pandemic went up in 2021 even as official COVID deaths remained relatively constant. Black residents were disproportionately impacted by some of these causes, such as heart disease and overdose deaths – despite a county-wide commitment to addressing racism as a public health threat.
- In Texas, smaller, rural counties served by Justices of the Peace were more likely to report potential undercounting of COVID deaths than larger, urban counties served by medical examiners. Justices of the Peace receive limited training in filling out death certificates and often do not have sufficient access to postmortem COVID testing, local experts say.