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The coronavirus infection rate between black Mainers and other demographics has grown more pronounced as cases have risen in the state, likely due in part to their stark overrepresentation in low-paying frontline jobs.
As of May 20, black Mainers accounted for 16.1 percent of total cases in which racial data was disclosed, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That rate is more than 10 times the percentage of black and African American people living in Maine.
Hispanic Mainers have also made up 4.4 percent of cases, more than 2.5 times their population share. White Mainers made up roughly 78.6 percent of known total cases, even though they comprise 94.6 percent of the state’s population.
The rate of black Mainers who have been infected by the virus proportional to other demographics has more than doubled since April. Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah has said the state is working with immigrant communities to increase awareness of the virus and reinforce the importance of seeking medical care when sick.
He has also emphasized minorities’ overrepresentation in low-paying or frontline jobs. The left-leaning Center for Economic Policy and Research found that black Mainers are most overrepresented in building cleaning, public transit and child care and social services jobs.
James Myall, an analyst with the liberal Maine Center for Economic Policy, said 11 percent of the state’s black population are working in frontline jobs, compared with 8 percent of the state’s white population.
“These are lower-paying jobs where that’s where people of color often end up being able to find work and they’re low-paying jobs because they’re more likely to be worked by people of color,” Myall said.
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All of this means that minority workers are likelier to be where outbreaks begin. A recent outbreak at Tyson Foods, a meat processing plant in Portland, turned up 51 positive cases, or roughly one-eighth of the plant’s largely immigrant workforce. The outbreak prompted the Maine CDC to conduct an investigation that included contact tracing in workers’ families.
Mufalo Chitam, the executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, said the group is working with the Maine CDC on a formal effort to support Maine’s populations of people of color during the pandemic.
“There is currently no formal structure to support and know how people are doing,” Chitam said.
The disparity could get more stark in the weeks to come. A recent positive case at the Maine Correctional Center, where a higher percentage of the state’s black population are incarcerated than other demographics, could exacerbate the issue.
Maine’s black population totals roughly 19,000 people. The virus has been most prevalent in Cumberland County, where 3.1 percent of the state’s black Mainers reside. Detailed race and ethnicity data among coronavirus testing results is not available by county.
Nationally, black people are dying of COVID-19 at twice the rate of white Americans. Black people comprise 25 percent of the country’s coronavirus-related deaths, and account for 14 percent of its population, according to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, which pairs reports on race and ethnicity with census data.
“In state after state, black people and Native people are still dying at rates higher than their population shares, and Latinx people are often infected from the coronavirus at disproportionate rates,” tweeted Ibram X. Kendi, a professor at American University and founder of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center, which helped design the tracker. “This is the racial pandemic within the viral pandemic.”
Watch: Nirav Shah addresses racial disparities in treating coronavirus cases nationwide