Racial-ethnic disparities in case fatality ratio narrowed after age standardization: A call for race-ethnicity-specific age distributions in State COVID-19 data

medRxiv. 2020 Oct 4;2020.10.01.20205377. doi: 10.1101/2020.10.01.20205377. Preprint


Importance: COVID-19 racial disparities have gained significant attention yet little is known about how age distributions obscure racial-ethnic disparities in COVID-19 case fatality ratios (CFR).

Objective: We filled this gap by assessing relevant data availability and quality across states, and in states with available data, investigating how racial-ethnic disparities in CFR changed after age adjustment. Design/Setting/Participants/Exposure: We conducted a landscape analysis as of July 1st, 2020 and developed a grading system to assess COVID-19 case and death data by age and race in 50 states and DC. In states where age- and race-specific data were available, we applied direct age standardization to compare CFR across race-ethnicities. We developed an online dashboard to automatically and continuously update our results. Main Outcome and Measure: Our main outcome was CFR (deaths per 100 confirmed cases). We examined CFR by age and race-ethnicities.

Results: We found substantial variations in disaggregating and reporting case and death data across states. Only three states, California, Illinois and Ohio, had sufficient age- and race-ethnicity-disaggregation to allow the investigation of racial-ethnic disparities in CFR while controlling for age. In total, we analyzed 391,991confirmed cases and 17,612 confirmed deaths. The crude CFRs varied from, e.g. 7.35% among Non-Hispanic (NH) White population to 1.39% among Hispanic population in Ohio. After age standardization, racial-ethnic differences in CFR narrowed, e.g. from 5.28% among NH White population to 3.79% among NH Asian population in Ohio, or an over one-fold difference. In addition, the ranking of race-ethnic-specific CFRs changed after age standardization. NH White population had the leading crude CFRs whereas NH Black and NH Asian population had the leading and second leading age-adjusted CFRs respectively in two of the three states. Hispanic populations age-adjusted CFR were substantially higher than the crude. Sensitivity analysis did not change these results qualitatively.

Conclusions and relevance: The availability and quality of age- and race-ethnic-specific COVID-19 case and death data varied greatly across states. Age distributions in confirmed cases obscured racial-ethnic disparities in COVID-19 CFR. Age standardization narrows racial-ethnic disparities and changes ranking. Public COVID-19 data availability, quality, and harmonization need improvement to address racial disparities in this pandemic.

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  • Preprint