News Flash

Health - Public Health News

Posted on: September 1, 2020

We’ve Changed How We’re Reporting COVID-19 Race and Ethnicity Data

We’ve made two changes to the way we are now reporting COVID-19 data associated with race and ethnicity. Revising the methodology used to report demographic data for COVID-19 case rates in Whatcom County not only improves the clarity of the data reported, but it does so in a way that is more reflective of how individuals identify racially and ethnically.

Adding a “Multiracial” Category

We’ve added a multiracial grouping to ensure that each case of COVID-19 is only represented once. Under the former methodology, if an individual identified with more than one race, they were represented in each racial group they selected, even though they only accounted for one case. Now, people who select multiple racial identities are included in the multiracial, non-Hispanic category.

Reporting “Hispanic” as Race, Not Ethnicity

Our update also includes a shift recategorizing “Hispanic” from an ethnicity to a racial identity. 

Although race and ethnicity are two categorizations related to human ancestry, both are social constructs used to characterize seemingly distinct populations. Federal policy defines “Hispanic” as an ethnicity, not a race. However based on census findings, standard U.S. racial categories may either be confusing or not provide relevant options for Hispanic people to describe their racial identity.

According to a Pew Research Center survey of multiracial Americans, for two-thirds of Hispanics, their Hispanic background is a part of their racial background, rather than something separate. This distinctive view of race is consistent across demographic subgroups of Latino adults. Suggesting that official U.S. definitions don’t accurately reflect the unique view of race held by Hispanics.

What does this mean for our local data? Prior to shifting our methodology, a significant percentage of the “other race” category was made up of individuals who identified as Hispanic, but with this change, the percentage of cases reported as “other race” has decreased. 

  • Under the old reporting method the “other race” category accounted for 10% of COVID-19 cases in Whatcom County. 
  • With the new methodology, only 2% of COVID-19 cases in Whatcom County are attributed to the “other race” category.
  • Under both the old and new methodology, approximately 30% of COVID-19 cases in Whatcom County are attributed to the Hispanic/Hispanic as race categories even though this group accounts for only 9% of the county population.

Summary of Changes

This new categorization is also used by the Washington State Department of Health. This update will increase consistency with the state data. 

Demographic Groups Used in Reporting "Percentage of Confirmed COVID-19 Cases, by Race and Ethnicity"

Old Methodology

Updated Methodology 

  • AI/AN (American Indian/Alaska Native)
  • Asian/NHPI (NHPI: Native Hawaiian/Pacific Isander)
  • Black 
  • White
  • Other  
  • Hispanic, of any race
  • White, NH
  • Hispanic as race
  • AI/AN, NH 
  • Other race, NH
  • Mulitracial, NH
  • Asian, NH
  • Black, NH
  • NHOPI, NH (NHOPI: Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander)

Hispanic: Hispanic ethnicity of any race

Other: Respondent selected "other race"  

NH: Non-Hispanic

Other: Respondent selected "other race"  

If counts are between 1-9, data are suppressed to comply with Washington State Department of Health small numbers guidelines.

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