WATCH NOW: Available state data shows Nebraskans of color hit hard by COVID-19

Virus Outbreak Nebraska

Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks at a news conference in March.

Though state-level data about the effects of COVID-19 on Nebraskans remain incomplete, the numbers indicate minorities were diagnosed with the virus at a far higher rate than the state’s white population.

Responding to previous requests to provide ethnic and racial data associated with coronavirus cases in Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts turned to Dannette Smith, chief executive officer of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, to share the data.

As expected, Latinos have borne a disproportionate share of the caseload due to a heavy concentration of Latino and immigrant workers in Nebraska’s meat processing industry, where workers on fast-moving production lines labor shoulder to shoulder and often directly across from one another.

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A current compilation shows 48% of Nebraskans who have tested positive for the virus to be Latino and 7% African-American.

However, the vast majority of Nebraskans who died of the coronavirus — 75% — were white, which can largely be attributed to clusters in senior living facilities. Those who identified as Latino comprised 20% of the state’s deaths.

There have been 2,988 positive cases of infection among meatpacking workers with 140 hospitalizations and 11 deaths.

As of Friday, DHHS reported 170 Nebraskans had died of COVID-19, and 13,654 had been diagnosed with the disease.

What the data also uncovered, Smith said, is the comparatively smaller percentage of hospitalization of people of color, particularly African Americans.

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“It says there is some disparity in how people are accessing health care or if they are accessing health care,” she said.

People need to realize that medical care and hospitalization to treat infection by the coronavirus will come at no cost to the patient, both the governor and Smith emphasized.

“We have a lot of work to do with our communities of color,” Smith said. 

Smith said the state’s data is incomplete and that DHHS will have better data available online at the end of June.

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Asked if earlier implementation of Medicaid expansion approved by Nebraska voters a year and a half ago would have been helpful in prompting more people to access care, Smith said “that remains to be seen” when the new Medicaid expansion program becomes effective in October.

Ricketts noted that the state’s current restrictions in response to the virus will begin to loosen on Monday when June arrives. The overall limitation on the size of gatherings will rise from 10 to 25 people.

But Nebraskans will continue to be asked to maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feet from one another, the governor said, and everyone should wear a face mask when in contact with others outside the home.

“Now it’s time to get Nebraska growing and help folks get back to as normal of a life as possible,” Ricketts said in the governor’s weekly column released shortly after the briefing concluded.

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