May 6, 2020

Public Health Director Rachael Banks
We understand the public’s desire for transparency and understanding, and we share the need for relevant and accurate information about local disease patterns. But we have heard clearly from our community and share our community’s concerns about the lack of context and usefulness of including the zip code of people who test positive for COVID-19 to understand how the virus is moving locally.

The data represents where an individual resides, not necessarily where disease was acquired, which at this time, may lead to false confidence in areas with fewer recorded cases, and unfounded fears of areas with more cases. 

If the data fails to control for location of long-term care facilities, an outbreak at a single facility can explain a high concentration of cases.

For now, the data reflects who has access to testing, which is an unreliable measure of disease spread.

Testing has not been accessible to all residents equally. Access to testing depends on, among other variables: occupation, level of health insurance coverage, language access, access to transportation.

As a result, zip code data does not tell us very much about who is experiencing covid-19. We cannot discern from zip code whether cases are occurring among essential workers, within communities, or at home. It does not fully capture the social nature of this virus. 

Multnomah County daily publishes a regional dashboard that details cases, hospitalizations and deaths broken down by age, gender, race and ethnicity, as well as data on testing, housing status, exposure type, underlying health conditions and symptoms. County Public Health has worked with a coalition of researchers and leaders from communities of color to analyze and share data regarding the spread of COVID-19 that is relevant and includes context for understanding the story of COVID-19.

We are especially concerned because data without context can lead to false conclusions, blame and fuel division. 

We worry this information could be used to further stigmatize and target communities of color that experience a disproportionate burden of exposure to and complications from COVID-19 due to institutional racism. 

We will continue to work with our community and advocate for data sharing that helps our people understand and respond effectively to this virus.