COVID-19 initiative pairs CDC Foundation, Morehouse School of Medicine Satcher Institute

A recent analysis from the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found being male, older, black, obese, having diabetes, not having insurance and smoking were independently associated with COVID-19 hospitalization. A new partnership between the CDC Foundation and the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine aims to address COVID-19 health disparities in racial and ethnic minority groups. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
A recent analysis from the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found being male, older, black, obese, having diabetes, not having insurance and smoking were independently associated with COVID-19 hospitalization. A new partnership between the CDC Foundation and the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine aims to address COVID-19 health disparities in racial and ethnic minority groups. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

In every pandemic since yellow fever hit Philadelphia in 1793, detailed demographic data about the afflicted never seems to be available when it is needed most. Only after the pandemic ends and researchers crunch the numbers do health officials begin to fully understand who was most impacted, said Daniel Dawes, director of Satcher Health Leadership Institute (SHLI) at Morehouse School of Medicine.

History seemed destined to repeat itself during the current pandemic, but a new partnership between the CDC Foundation and Satcher Institute announced Wednesday hopes to make that deep level of data available in real time to address the health equity implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have been pushing local and state health officials to collect and disaggregate that data and show us what is going on,” Dawes said. If they don’t, “We will have the same track record we have had before.”

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With support provided by the CDC Foundation’s COVID-19 emergency response fund, the Health Equity Task Force will utilize the knowledge of experts in a range of fields to develop a platform that allows everyone from policymakers to researchers to access standardized demographic data related to the current pandemic.

In the United States, over 115,000 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19, and morbidity and mortality rates continue to rise. Racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately impacted by the disease, according to preliminary data.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp receives information about a community COVID-19 testing site from Public Health District 2 Director, Dr. Pamela Logan (right), in the parking lot of La Flor de Jalisco #2 during a visit to Gainesville, Friday, May 15, 2020. 
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp receives information about a community COVID-19 testing site from Public Health District 2 Director, Dr. Pamela Logan (right), in the parking lot of La Flor de Jalisco #2 during a visit to Gainesville, Friday, May 15, 2020. 

A recent data analysis in the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from COVID-19 patients at six metropolitan Atlanta hospitals and associated outpatient clinics found that being male, older, black, obese, having diabetes, not having insurance and smoking were independently associated with hospitalization.

Understanding how the pandemic impacts all populations and building inclusive strategies is dependent on having accurate and comprehensive information to make good decisions, said Judy Monroe, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.

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Computer scientists and engineers from Google will spend the next six months building a system that will draw data from local, county, state and federal sources the moment it is uploaded to databases and run it through an algorithm that will generate data on race and ethnicity.

The platform will also include data to address questions such as which communities are receiving test kits, if mobile testing is available, how triage nurses are deciding which patients to admit to hospitals, and if treatment drugs are being distributed equitably, Dawes said.

Atlanta Police Department officers distribute masks to the homeless at Hurt Park downtown on Friday, April 24, 2020. 
Atlanta Police Department officers distribute masks to the homeless at Hurt Park downtown on Friday, April 24, 2020. 

To make sure the platform lives on after the pandemic has ended, it will also include data on the underlying risk factors of COVID-19 and examine the conditions creating those factors. In Atlanta, for example, residents of Mechanicsville have the lowest life expectancy of any residents in large part due to poor air quality from the highway that cuts through the community, Dawes said.

The ability to align social determinants of health with the political determinants can help reveal how policies have reduced or increased health inequities. “It is the first time we will be able to do something meaningful around this,” Dawes said.

The platform, which Dawes hopes to debut as early as September, will also have a mental health component, which can be used to identify hot spots for suicide or depression, for example. To make sure the data has impact, the task force will work with members of the community to engage and train them in advocacy work. “These are multi-systemic inequities. We want (communities) to understand what it is and address them,” Dawes said.

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