COVID-19 in Florida: Disparities in the Black Population

After the COVID-19 pandemic caused statewide shutdowns and social distancing regulations across the nation in March 2020, the State of Florida reopened on May 18, 2020. Shortly after its reopening, hospitals and testing centers reported a drastic increase in positive COVID-19 tests. In July 2020, Florida became the “New Epicenter” of COVID-19 in the United States and surpassed record infection rates. Despite the rise of COVID-19 cases, the state of Florida continued with Phase 2 of its reopening plan.

While COVID-19 has a profound impact on Florida, the pandemic may affect different communities to various extents. Presumably, Black people are more likely to suffer from public health crises in comparison with white people for being traditionally and economically disenfranchised. Digging into the history of the 1918 influenza outbreak and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic evidences higher case fatalities in Black communities. Given the rise in COVID-19 cases and existing health disparities within the United States, our research team at FSU aimed to evaluate the new coronavirus’s effect on Florida’s residents. More specifically, we examined whether Black residents were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 as compared to white residents.

We collected data from the Florida Department of Health to capture the COVID-19 infection rates of 67 counties in Florida on June 15 and July 20. The data include numbers of tests, positive residents, hospitalization, deaths, and the aggregated demographic information of those positive cases for each county. In addition, we gathered county-level demographic and socioeconomic information from the U.S. Census Bureau. These two datasets allow us to investigate how counties in Florida were effected by the virus.

Our data show that, in June, Black residents in 48 counties in Florida were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. By July 20, 2020, this number became 39. We performed a paired t-test comparing the percentages of the Black population and of Black COVID-19 cases for each county. The results show that percentages of Black positive cases were about 5.73% more than Black residents’ shares of the county population, which is a statistically significant difference. In other words, the results show support for our argument that Black communities have suffered from the virus, especially. Among the counties in which Black residents were most excessively influenced, many of those counties are rural counties in northern and central Florida.

Systemic racism has continutally shaped negative conditions of Black people; the results of this project only echo this statement. To address long-standing systemic and institutional racism, Florida must develop a culturally relevant health services campaign and invest in a state healthcare system that can serve Black communities. In addition, the Florida Department of Health should conduct a racial bias and disparities audit to consider how healthcare decisions are clouded by racism and bias. Moreover, rural counties are in need of a pandemic plan that centers how Black residents are consistently disproportionately represented in health inequities. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Florida must keep investing in Black communities, specifically Black rural communities in northern and central Florida, to address statewide inequalities.

Dongfang Gaozhao is a Ph.D. candidate in the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy. His research primarily focuses on how information and misinformation affect individuals’ attitudes toward organizational performance and policies. His recent research projects explore topics including social media, education policy, AI, and policing.

Allen Clay Jr. is a M.S. Higher Education candidate from Cincinnati, OH and earned a BA in Hispanic Studies from Davidson College. He is also a Janet Ward Worthington Fellowship recipient and serves as a Graduate Assistant in the Department of Student Conduct and Community Standards.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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