Update: COVID-19 Registry shows racial disparities in economic impact of pandemic


More than 40% of Houston-area households have lost income as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. And the pandemic appears to be taking a greater economic toll on African American and Hispanic households than white and Asian American households, according to

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More than 40% of Houston-area households have lost income as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. And the pandemic appears to be taking a greater economic toll on African American and Hispanic households than white and Asian American households, according to the latest survey results from Rice University’s COVID-19 Registry.

Between 7% and 10% of all households report having difficulty paying rent or other bills. Those numbers are on par with the first round of results, which were released on April 22 and were based on responses from around 2,100 participants. However, when broken down by race, the latest registry data reflect economic disparities.

According to responses from 4,000 Texas residents — the vast majority of whom live in the Houston region — 16% of black households and 14% of Hispanic households say they have difficulty paying their rent, compared to only 5% of non-Hispanic white households. That gap increases when it comes to trouble paying bills — 24% of black households and 18% of Hispanic households say they are struggling to pay their bills, compared to 8% of non-Hispanic white households.

The COVID-19 Registry is a research study that provides real-time information on the spread of COVID-19, who is being affected and how. Visit the COVID-19 Registry to take the survey.

The registry also shows that the vast majority of respondents who are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 are not getting tested. Just 10.5% of participants who have had a fever or experienced feverish symptoms have been tested, and only 13.4% of those who have recently developed shortness of breath have been tested.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of symptoms for COVID-19 includes fever, cough, shortness of breath chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

This post is part of our “COVID-19 and Cities” series, which features experts’ views on the global pandemic and its impact on our lives.

Researchers at Rice University partnered with local health departments, including the Houston Health Department and Harris County Public Health, to launch the Houston-area COVID-19 Registry in April.

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With a primary focus on Houston and the surrounding region, data from the COVID-19 Registry provides health care professionals and researchers with first-hand, real-time information about the COVID-19’s spread across the Houston area and helps them better understand both the disease itself and its short-term and longitudinal impact on health and the economy in the region. Participation also can help health care professionals advance treatments and allow researchers to design better studies on a particular condition, including the development and testing of new treatments.

In addition, registry data will also improve health care providers’ knowledge of the disease’s drain on the capacity of local health care systems — the availability and shortage of key resources — which can be used to better prepare and manage those resources as the pandemic unfolds.

“A lot of attention has been paid to what’s happening in big cities like New York or Seattle or San Francisco — also, of course, Houston and Dallas — we’re very interested in making sure we understand the spread of COVID-19 across both smaller cities and rural areas,” Former Rice Provost Marie Lynn Miranda, who leads the registry effort, told the Fox affiliate in Austin.

Preliminary findings from the registry survey indicated the possibility that more people may have the disease than official counts of confirmed cases in the region reflect. According to the registry, far more respondents experienced symptoms than were tested.

For example, 27% of respondents had either registered a high temperature or experienced feverish symptoms suggesting a high temperature. However, only about 3% were tested for COVID-19. Another 3.5% tried but failed to find a testing location.

Respondents are experiencing significant mental health issues

Information gathered from participants includes demographic details such as race, age, gender and household makeup as well as underlying medical conditions that might put respondents at greater risk for complications related to COVID-19. Survey questions cover respondents’ recent travel patterns, symptoms experienced, access to health care services and testing. Gathering data related to the pandemic’s impact on participants’ mental health, financial security and work situation is key to the purpose and benefit of the registry, which was built with the same survey and data-analysis software that the Kinder Institute Urban Data Platform used to develop the Hurricane Harvey Registry in 2018.

As Dwight Silverman pointed out in a recent story on the Houston Chronicle’s Techburger website: One revelation from the (Hurricane Harvey Registry) data was there were more mental health issues as a result of Harvey than had been estimated.

“We are trying to look at all the different ways that people are impacted,” Urban Data Platform Director Katherine Bennett Ensor told the Chronicle. During the current pandemic, “mental health, in particular, is a big issue” because of the feelings of isolation that can result from staying at home and anxiety related to fears of contracting COVID-19.

Among those who responded to the COVID-19 Registry as of April 23, 28% reported feeling nervous or anxious more than half the time. Roughly 18% said they are afraid more than half the time that something awful might happen.

Many are working from home. Many are experiencing significant economic setbacks.

Analyzing the data from the registry survey will not only shed light on COVID-19’s impact on the Houston area, it will also help residents find and connect with the resources they need. In that way, the registry is similar to the Gulf Coast Coronavirus (COVID-19) Community Impact Survey, in which the Kinder Institute’s Houston Education Research Consortium is a partner.

“We wanted to make sure we were also collecting information on the economic and social impacts (of the pandemic) that allow the government agencies and community groups and churches to figure out how are we are going to support people who have either lost hours or lost jobs or how to think about bringing the economic recovery on pace as situations allow the economy to open up,” said Miranda, who in March was named provost at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana.

Among all respondents as of April 23, 41% said they have suffered a loss of income — 12% reported losing a job and 15% said they saw their hours reduced. In addition, 6% were struggling to pay rent, and 10% were having difficulty covering the cost of utilities or other monthly bills.

Almost half of the early participants were employed — 47% — and said they are working from home, while 21% continued to work at their regular location of employment. The remaining 32% were not employed.

The registry provides evidence about who is most vulnerable to the disease and how well suppression behaviors such as social distancing, frequent hand-washing, not touching your face and not shaking hands are working to slow the spread.

The vast majority of respondents say they have changed their behavior to fight the disease.

Miranda isn’t surprised to see the overwhelmingly positive response and collective effort from people to do what they can to protect themselves and their neighbors during this crisis.

“While we haven’t seen anything quite like COVID-19 in our lifetimes, what I will say is the American people really came together and supported each other and did all kinds of things (like making) behavioral changes, did all kind of things after 9/11 to ensure our country was safe and individuals in our community were safe,” Miranda said. “So, I think we have shown, as a country, that we have the courage and the will to really take on an incredible challenge like this and come out the other side stronger.”

The more people who join and contribute information to the COVID-19 Registry, the more effective and beneficial it will be; so everyone is encouraged to participate, whether they are experiencing symptoms or not. Participants have the opportunity to participate in follow-up surveys every two weeks. Respondents are not representative of the population at large.



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