Race Data Highlighted in NC COVID-19 Response and New Data Reports Use Equity Lens

This article is a part of an ongoing series that examines Equity During COVID-19 in early childhood and how this crisis impacts young children and families of color disproportionately in health, education, and geography across North Carolina. An introduction to the series can be found here.


As the world continues to navigate the unprecedented challenges presented by the spread of COVID-19, North Carolina has remained a frontrunner nationwide for collecting data on race and discussing the disproportionate effects the virus is having on African American and Hispanic communities. The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) is also examining data with a racial equity lens through the Pathways to Grade Level Reading Initiative.

Nationwide, communities of color are being hit hardest by the virus and its effects – higher rates of infection and death, and worse economic fallout — because of systemic inequities in access to healthcare, education, wealth, nutrition and housing. This holds true in North Carolina.

A chart showing COVID-19 cases and deaths listed by race and ethnicity. The blue column shows a race’s portion of the North Carolina population, the green column shows its share of COVID-19 cases and the orange shows its portion of COVID-19 deaths. From the left, the categories are white, Black or African American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian or Native Alaskan. Sources: NC DHHS COVID-19 Data Dashboard and U.S Census Bureau NC Data.

To lessen the spread among communities of color, Mandy Cohen, Secretary of NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), shared that all programmatic activities will have an equity lens, and the state will redouble its efforts to share data and communicate with communities of color.

Racial disparities in COVID-19 matter for the health, safety and well-being of young children. There is growing evidence that children can get very sick with COVID-19. And even though children under the age of 17 currently make up only three percent of cases, primary caretakers of young children, from the age of 25-49, make up the largest percentage of laboratory-confirmed cases in NC at 42 percent. A disproportionately high number of Black and Hispanic workers cannot telecommute and account for a considerable number of essential workers. Black and Hispanic people are disproportionately represented among “high-touch” industries like childcare, health care, and transportation and are at greater risk of being exposed to the virus and spreading it to their families and children. This can put strain on families and children who are already on the frontlines of the virus.

COVID-19 is bringing to light the importance of racial equity in data development, analysis and use, as demonstrated by NC DHHS. NCECF recently released two data reports that recommend portfolios of measures to provide more complete pictures of NC children’s social-emotional health and their development at kindergarten entry at the population level. The Child Development at Kindergarten Entry data workgroup and the Children’s Social-Emotional Health data workgroup embedded a racial equity lens in their processes, with intentional discussion around racial bias in screenings and child assessments. The workgroups urged NC to:

  • Research how implicit racial bias inherent in screening and child assessments impacts assessment results and identify best practices to mitigate that bias, such as supporting the development of more culturally responsive and valid tools and incorporating qualitative data from parents into screenings and assessments.
  • Identify additional social-emotional and child development measures that build readiness that may highlight strengths of children of color, such as risk-taking, creativity, flexibility, persistence, awareness of racial and social identities, language diversity, or narrative skills. Ideally, this work would be led by researchers of color and others most impacted by systemic barriers to opportunity.

Racial equity consultation was provided by Dr. Sterling Freeman and Kathleen Crabbs of CounterPart Consulting for both data workgroups.