COVID-19: Racial and Ethnic Disparities

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Unjust and disproportionate impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted health inequities across the nation and in Wisconsin. COVID-19 has been hard on everyone, but data shows that Wisconsin's Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Inequities are reflected in COVID-19 vaccination rates. Many of the factors that contribute to health disparities may also be barriers that prevent people from getting vaccinated, as the data shows that white populations have higher vaccination rates.

Individual choice is not what keeps these communities from being as healthy as possible. In fact, structural racism and social factors often create barriers and obstacles for many people. Health is influenced not just by your access to quality health care services, research shows it is also impacted by where you work, where you live, how much money you earn, and how much education you have.

These factors, also called "social determinants of health," are what shape an individual's health more than any other factor. These factors are also directly tied to racism and help explain the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has among many communities of color.

In our society, race and ethnicity are often used to group people according to shared characteristics or identities:

  • Race refers to a person's physical traits such as facial features, hair, and skin color.
  • Ethnicity refers to a person's cultural identity and regional ancestry.

Each person who tested positive for COVID-19 was asked to identify with a race category and with or without a Hispanic ethnicity.

As part of our broader efforts to promote health equity, DHS has taken and will continue to take action in order to address many of these challenges and to support Wisconsin's communities of color.

Some of the early work in the pandemic included:

  • Locating accessible community testing sites in communities of color
  • Providing contact tracing services in multiple languages
  • Distributing PPE to local partners throughout the state
  • Translating COVID-19 services (such as testing registration) and web materials into multiple languages

And some of our efforts to promote vaccine equity includes:

  • Prioritizing vaccine orders for vaccine providers that work with underserved populations.
  • Standing up mobile vaccination teams, community-based vaccine clinics, and engaged in partnerships to expand vaccine coverage.
  • Investing $3 million to supplement vaccine equity work being done by partners across the state.
  • Launching a $6.2 million Vaccine Equity and Community Outreach Grant Program.
  • Expanding our Vaccinator Matching Program to allow organizations and employers to host vaccine clinics.

Every Wisconsinite should be able to live their best life. That is why we are committed to centering equity in our work to reduce health disparities in Wisconsin.

Learn more about racial inequities and what we can do.

Understanding our data: What does this chart mean?

These charts show us the health impact of COVID-19 and vaccination rates by race and ethnicity. The first chart shows the percent of all COVID-19 cases and the rate (cases per 100,000 people) for each racial and ethnic group. It also shows the percent of the general population each racial and ethnic group makes up in Wisconsin for comparison to the percent of all cases. 

The second chart shows us the rolling 2-week rates as a trend over time for each racial and ethnic group.

The menus on the left allow users to select which rates they'd like to view (cases, hospitalizations, deaths, or vaccines). In addition, users can select to view rates within specific age groups. Making a selection from either of these menus will change both the top and bottom charts.

Please note that the Wisconsin Electronic Disease Surveillance (WEDSS) system underwent routine maintenance and enhancements over the weekend of October 16-18, 2020. Due to this temporary pause in reporting, multiple days of data were uploaded at once, affecting the single day count for the visualizations during that time.

About our data: How do we measure this?

Individuals in the Hispanic or Latinx group could be of any race, and those in the other racial/ethnic groups are not Hispanic or Latinx. Individuals are counted in only one group.

Rates are a ratio of the number of cases (or hospitalizations, deaths) to the whole population for each racial/ethnic group within a given time-period. Because rates are a ratio that adjusts for the size of the population, rates allow us to make an apples-to-apples comparison of the impact of COVID-19 on communities of different sizes. Circles of equal diameter or lines of equal height would indicate equal impact (for example, lives lost per 100,000 people) across groups. Rates are now adjustable by age, which is a major risk factor for hospitalization and death from COVID-19. So even if 2 groups have similar death rates overall, one group may still be at greater risk because they are experiencing more severe disease, or because they have lower vaccination rates as we see with younger individuals.

A rolling 2-week time-period is used in the line chart to show how the impact of the epidemic has changed over time. These distributions are changing and represent the progression of the outbreak to date.

Rates in the most recent 2 weeks may be artificially low because of time lags in data reporting.

Data source: Wisconsin Electronic Disease Surveillance System (WEDSS). Population estimates are from the U.S. Census Bureau annual estimates of the resident population for Wisconsin: July 1, 2019 (SC-EST2019-SR11H-55). Vaccination data comes from the Wisconsin Immunization Registry (WIR)

Read our Frequently Asked Questions for more information on how cases of COVID-19 are reported to WEDSS and how vaccinations are reported to WIR.

Every morning by 9 a.m., we extract the data from WEDSS that will be reported on the DHS website at 2 p.m. These numbers are the official DHS numbers. Counties may report their own case and death counts on their own websites. Because WEDSS is a live system that constantly accepts data, case and death counts on county websites will differ from the DHS counts if the county extracted data from WEDSS at a different time of day. Please consult the county websites to determine what time of day they pull data from WEDSS. Combining the DHS and local totals will result in inaccurate totals.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19: Unless otherwise specified, the data described here are confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported to WEDSS. Cases are classified using the national case definition established by the CDC. Confirmed cases are those that have positive results from diagnostic, confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests or nucleic acid amplification tests (NAT) that detect genetic material of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Illnesses with only positive antigen or positive antibody test results do not meet the definition of confirmed and are not included in the number of confirmed cases.

COVID-19 Deaths: Unless otherwise specified, COVID-19 deaths reported on the DHS website are deaths among confirmed cases of COVID-19 that meet the vital records criteria set forth by the CDC and Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) case definition. Those are deaths that have a death certificate that lists COVID-19 disease or SARS-CoV-2 as an underlying cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death. Deaths associated with COVID-19 must be reported by health care providers or medical examiners/coroners, and recorded in WEDSS by local health departments in order to be counted as a COVID-19 death. Deaths among people with COVID-19 that were the result of non-COVID reasons (e.g., accident, overdose, etc.) are not included as a COVID-19 death. For more information see the FAQ page.

Probable cases of COVID-19 and deaths among probable cases. Some visualizations include the option of including information on probable cases of COVID-19 and deaths among probable cases of COVID-19. Cases are classified using the national case definition established by the CDC and the CSTE [https://wwwn.cdc.gov/nndss/conditions/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/.... A person is counted as a probable* case of COVID-19 if they are not positive by a confirmatory laboratory test method (for example, a PCR, or NAT test), but have met one of the following:

  1. Test positive using an antigen test method.
  2. Have symptoms of COVID-19 AND known exposure to COVID-19 (for example, being a close contact of someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19).
  3. COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 is listed on the death certificate.

*This definition was updated as of August 19, 2020. Previously, probable cases also included those that had a positive antibody test which detects COVID-19 antibodies in the blood. For more details on this transition, see the CDC’s statement.

Deaths among probable cases are those that meet one of the following criteria:

  • A probable case of COVID-19 is reported to have died from causes related to COVID-19.
  • A death certificate that lists COVID-19 disease or SARS-CoV-2 as an underlying cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death is reported to DHS but WEDSS has no record of confirmatory laboratory evidence for SARS-CoV-2.

Data shown are subject to change. For more information see the FAQ page. As individual cases are investigated by public health, there may be corrections to the status and details of cases that result in changes to this information. Some examples of corrections or updates that may result in the case or death counts going up or down, include:

  • Update or correction of case’s address, resulting in a change to their location of residence to another county or state
  • Correction to laboratory result
  • Correction to a case’s status from confirmed to unconfirmed (for example, if they were marked as confirmed because a blood test detecting antibodies was positive instead of a test detecting the virus causing COVID-19)
  • De-duplication or merging and consolidation of case records
  • Update of case’s demographic information from missing or unknown to complete information

For information on testing, see: COVID-19, testing criteria section.

We plan to update our data Monday through Friday by 2 p.m.

Back to a list of charts on this page.

How can I download DHS COVID-19 data?

All DHS COVID-19 data is available for download directly from the chart on the page. You can click on the chart and then click "Download" at the bottom of the chart (gray bar).

To download our data visit one of the following links:

Updated Data*

Data dictionary

*As of May 27, 2021, the visualizations are using an updated data file that allows corrections due to quality assurance to be counted on the date when a case or death was first reported, rather than affecting the current daily count of cases or deaths.

You can find more instructions on how to download COVID-19 data or access archived spatial data by visiting our FAQ page

Last Revised: July 8, 2021

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