New Coronavirus Data In Maryland Tracks Cases By ZIP Code, Reveals Racial Disparities The Montgomery County Council vice president says it's "troubling" the top five ZIP codes for coronavirus case numbers are "largely black and brown."
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NPR logo New Coronavirus Data In Maryland Tracks Cases By ZIP Code, Reveals Racial Disparities

New Coronavirus Data In Maryland Tracks Cases By ZIP Code, Reveals Racial Disparities

Nurses test for COVID-19 at FedEx Field in Prince George's County, Md. Tyrone Turner/WAMU hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU

New data that tracks COVID-19 cases according to ZIP codes reveals that three areas of Montgomery County are in the top five across Maryland, as county officials and Gov. Larry Hogan agree that Maryland suffers the same racial disparity in coronavirus cases that has emerged across the country.

"It's troubling that the ZIP codes with the highest number of cases are largely black and brown ZIP codes in Silver Spring," said Tom Hucker, Montgomery County Council vice president. "And obviously the apex is still coming. "

Hucker's comments echoed Gov. Larry Hogan's remarks Sunday to ABC's This Week. Hogan said the state has studied about 80 percent of its coronavirus cases by race. The study found African Americans to have the largest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among any other group in the state.

"This disparity among African Americans is very disturbing," Hogan said.

As of Sunday, Maryland reported 8,225 cases of coronavirus and 235 deaths.

The top ZIP code for coronavirus cases in Maryland is in Baltimore. Number five is in Prince George's County, which is about 64% African American.

Hogan said he convinced the federal government to consider the Baltimore-Washington corridor as a hotspot, which would include Montgomery and Prince George's County.

"The vast majority of our resources are focused on that Baltimore-Washington corridor and these communities," Hogan said. "It's where almost all our attention, all our focus, all of our money, all of our health care, all the assistance from the National Guard, all the testing is being done, all of our health care is being ramped up."

In Montgomery County, Hucker said part of the reason for high number of cases could be the dense, high population. He doubted that increased testing was the cause for the higher count because his county was "one of the last large jurisdictions to have a testing center set up."

Instead, he believed the high numbers could be explained by the area's large shares of African American residents and immigrants, who are more likely to work in jobs that exposed them to the virus and less likely to get good primary care. Further, he said the ZIP codes at the top of the list were home to Jewish elderly and Orthodox Jewish populations, which have had high rates of infection.

He said the new data would inform the county's response to COVID-19. Hucker said the county had translated its fact sheets and web site into six major languages spoken in Montgomery County, and that it was working with multilingual county staffers and contractors because "there have been complaints about the quality of the translation, that Google Translate's not so good."

Moreover, Hucker said, Montgomery County was moving to get more protective equipment for people working as bus drivers, grocery cashiers, first responders and other essential jobs. The county has invested $6 million into emergency support for health care providers and another $10 million to help local hospitals expand their capacity. In addition, he said the county paid $250,000 to rent out hotel rooms for hospital workers who wanted to avoid infecting their families at home.

"We're not waiting for the feds or the state to run to the rescue," he said. "We are doing everything we possibly can."

Still, he said the effort was hampered by the national scramble for supplies including protective gear, ventilators and testing kits — and the lack of testing kits has made it impossible to get a true count of cases in his county.

"We know what the hospitalizations are," Hucker said. "We don't at all know how many cases we really have out there because the vast majority of people have never been tested."

Preparations continue in Maryland for an expected surge in cases. Asked Sunday if he agrees with President Trump that governors have all they need, Hogan pushed back.

"We've certainly seen an improvement over the past week," in the federal response; however, he said states still had "tremendous need" for protective equipment and ventilators.

He said widespread testing and contact tracing will be "absolutely essential" to the fight against the coronavirus.

The Trump Administration has suggested the U.S. could relax its social distancing when current rules expire on May 1. Hogan cast doubt on the timeline.

"The first thing is saving lives and keeping people safe," he said. "You can't just pick a date and flip a switch."

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