EAST WENATCHEE — The Chelan-Douglas Health District has stopped releasing a breakdown of COVID-19 test results by ethnicity, data that has shown a disproportionately high rate of cases among the local Latino community.
The health district said it was contacted by some members of the Latino community who felt the disparity in testing results could lead people to inaccurately believe they were responsible for the spread of the virus.
“My understanding is they were concerned some people could misinterpret that as though the Hispanic community was responsible for the outbreak or the source of the outbreak, or in some sense they could be blamed,” Administrator Barry Kling said Friday. He declined to say who contacted the district over the issue.
Other local Latino community leaders said the information is important for understanding the disparity and responding to it appropriately.
“It is not a matter of blaming anybody, it’s a matter of addressing the fact that the population of Latinos here in Wenatchee are being affected at a higher rate. It’s not about pointing fingers, it’s about addressing these issues,” said Karina Vega-Villa, a program director and faculty member at Wenatchee Valley College.
The health district has been updating COVID-19 test results — including cases broken down by age, sex and city — on its website every day for several weeks. It plans to continue releasing that other demographic information.
On April 14 it added a chart for ethnicity. At that time, the cases numbered 47 Hispanic and 40 non-Hispanic.
As capacity increased and more tests were administered, the ethnic disparity grew. On April 28 the cases numbered 130 Hispanic, 41 non-Hispanic and one unknown. That was the last day the ethnicity data was updated.
On April 21, 36 Stemilt Ag Services workers were reported to have the virus. All of the new cases added to the health district’s website that day were reported as Hispanic.
It’s one of the few wide-scale tests conducted in the area and furthered the disparate number of confirmed cases in Chelan and Douglas counties.
But even without those tests, the numbers would skew more than 2-1 Hispanic to non-Hispanic. The population of Chelan and Douglas counties is around 30% Hispanic.
The number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU at Central Washington Hospital was 53% Hispanic in early April, the most recent data available.
Kling said North Central Washington’s reported cases are “certainly” disproportional, but are being attributed only to ethnicity rather than taking into account other factors like socioeconomic status.
“We don’t think it’s due to ethnicity, we think it’s due to income,” he said. “When you have lower income and you’re living in crowded housing conditions, more people in fewer rooms ... That’s going to predispose you.”
Vega-Villa agreed there are many co-existing factors that affect the disparity, but said the data needs to be public for accurate analysis.
“It is the responsibility of the health department to make that information by ethnicity public,” she said. “Only then can we have a response that is really meaningful. I understand their hesitation, but we need to acknowledge this issue.”
The data is also important in demonstrating the need for coronavirus-related funding and outreach in the Latino community, said Teresa Bendito, who is leading the Latino Communications Network with Our Valley Our Future.
“In order for our outreach to continue, we will need to show the need and impact of our work,” she said.
And health resources for the Latino community are more important than ever, Vega-Villa said.
“The disparities in health access are obvious,” she said. “What this crisis has done is magnify what we already knew: Communities of color lack access and information.”
Kling said the Chelan-Douglas Health District’s decision is in line with several of the other counties in the state.
Other nearby counties, including Grant, Okanogan and Kittitas, don’t provide a breakdown of ethnicity on their case-count web pages.
King and Snohomish counties — which have the highest case counts in the state — report ethnicity data compared to the population.
The state Department of Health releases both case counts and deaths by ethnicity for Washington, which has a 12.4% Hispanic population, according to the data.
Across the state, 31% of positive cases and 8% of deaths are attributed to people who are Hispanic.