Shelby County Health Department to begin tracking race data related to COVID-19 pandemic

Watch: Tennessee Board of Education proposes rule changes for students in light of COVID-19 pandemic

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — The U.S. Surgeon General and the Director for the National Institutes of Health Dr. Anthony Facui warn that COVID-19 will hit the African American community disproportionately harder than others.

In Memphis and Shelby County, we don’t know the racial makeup of those who tested positive because that type of data is not kept. But that will change and one community leader told FOX13 it’s about time.

RELATED: Surgeon General says African Americans are at higher risk during the coronavirus pandemic

Content Continues Below

FOX13 reporter Greg Coy first reached out to the health department about this issue on March 14.

They said then that they could not release that information because of privacy issues.

Now the health department said it will begin including more demographics and race will be included starting either Wednesday or Thursday.

But one community leader told FOX13 he has been pushing for this information since last month and he wonders why it took so long.

The number of African Americans who have tested positive for COVID-19, been quarantined and even died from the virus in Shelby County and Tennessee is not publicly available.

“Unfortunately, much of our race data has been missing for a variety of reasons,” Shelby County Health Director Alisa Haushalter said. “That’s one of the pieces of data that’s not necessarily on the report. The report that comes from the healthcare provider or the lab.”

The change in the reporting comes as national health officials warn the black community is suffering disproportionately.

To determine if that’s the case in Shelby County, race will be included in the health department figures.

“We are going to be able to provide very detailed information on deaths that would include the race data as well," Haushalter said.

FOX13 spoke to Reverend Earl Fisher with the Coalition of Concerned Citizens. He said, “Not having the information up front is an act of negligence.”

Fisher has been pushing for the state and local health departments to include a racial breakdown for weeks to better track the pandemic.

“It is important to have every ounce of data that we have that is aggravated that we possibly can to make sure that we remedy the problem,” he said.

Why could the pandemic claim so many black lives in Shelby County as it has in Louisiana, Michigan and Illinois?

Because of preexisting conditions such as heart disease that a 2016 chart from the Health Department shows is the leading cause of death in Shelby County.

“We are the people most impacted by COVID-19,” Fisher said.

Fisher said data will also show how economic conditions are helping to fuel the spread for people without health benefits to get tested or call in sick.

“Either you take the risk of infection by going to work or you take the risk of eviction by not going to work,” he said.

For the latest on coronavirus, stream FOX13 News on FOX13 Memphis Now – it’s free on your Roku, Amazon Fire or Apple TV as well as your FOX13 News App.