COVID-19 zip code information may reinforce stigma and unfairly target communities of color

Release date: 05/07/2020
Sponsored by: Health and Human Services Department

Tricia MortellEarlier this week, the Oregon Health Authority began posting COVID-19 case counts by zip code. While we understand the public’s desire for transparency and the need to provide useful information about who this disease is affecting, we do not believe that these data will help us slow the spread of COVID-19. In fact, releasing this information could further stigmatize communities of color who are already disproportionately impacted by the disease and who also often face systemic social, economic and health inequities.

This information tell us where people who’ve tested positive live, but it does not give us information about where they were exposed to the disease, which is what we really need in order to understand how this disease is spreading.

In Washington County, nearly half of the people who have tested positive identify as Hispanic, while the county’s overall Hispanic population is 16.5%. Many of these individuals are essential workers who don’t have the privilege of working from home.

Nearly 60% of our Latinx community members who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 work in industries that are considered essential including health care, outdoor labor, factory/warehouse work, food services or grocery stores. This is the kind of information and data that inform our public health prevention, education and outreach efforts. 

Washington County participates in 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, underlying health conditions and symptoms. We will continue to work with our community and advocate for sharing data that help us understand and respond effectively to this virus.

Tricia Mortell, RD, MPH
Washington County Public Health Division Manager

Media Contact:

Mary Sawyers, Public Information Officer