Editor's note: This piece was originally published on May 22. It has been updated with more current data.
A month ago, WUWM broke news that 53215 — a predominantly Latino ZIP code on Milwaukee's south side — was experiencing a disproportionately high number of positive coronavirus cases compared to the city's overall population.
At that time, although the numbers were rising, Hispanics comprised around 17% of the city's 2,055 cases. Since then, the numbers have changed dramatically.
The latest city data from Friday shows that Hispanics make up 37% of the city's positive coronavirus cases, despite comprising just 19% of Milwaukee's population. African Americans make up 34% of the positive cases, and white residents make up 31% of the city's total.
On May 22, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said the city's health department is in the preliminary stages of understanding the reasons for the increase in positive coronavirus tests among Hispanics, but she speculates that residents' employment could be a factor.
“As far as where we are at right now, some of this is an artifact of employer-related infections. You just have one, and then it spreads," Kowalik said in a news briefing.
The commissioner was short on details, but she mentioned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is on the ground in Milwaukee, investigating local cases and providing analysis to the health department. Kowalik says a report with more information will be coming within the next month.
Currently, the health department is focused on slowing the growing number of positive cases. Kowalik says the department also is interested in analyzing the behavioral aspects that could be contributing to the spread of the virus.
“Sometimes when you look at the disparities, there’s an assumption, you blame the people for getting infected, which is totally false. We’re looking more at the socio-economic determinants of health, which [have] pretty much set up people to have a harder time protecting themselves from COVID-19 infection," Kowalik said.
Kowalik listed limited wages, types of occupations, types of housing, and access to healthy foods as socio-economic determinants that can play a role in infection rates among vulnerable populations.
In a statement late last Friday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's office emphasized that the trends officials are looking at now may evolve in the coming days:
"As more tests are processed in the coming days, we'll have a better picture of results received at the National Guard sites in the last two weeks. All 20,000 tests that have been issued are not currently reflected in the COVID-19 tracker. We will need this complete information in order to review the data and understand how COVID-19 is impacting our communities. It's too early to say at this point."
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