The stats say Asians have the fewest cases of COVID. But is that really true?

By Daysi Calavia-Robertson, NJ |

“Asians in New Jersey have the lowest percentage of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths compared with the population” — I saw that not long ago in an article displaying recent New Jersey Department of Health data and was glad to see it.

With caseloads at 4.8% compared with 12.2 % for Black people, 23.8 % for Hispanics and 42.9 % for whites, it would be easy to write Asians off as not being as hard hit by the virus as people of other ethnicities. I decided to look into it a bit more and read a Centers for Disease Control report noting that nationally Asian people make up a lower share of coronavirus cases and deaths compared to their population share, 3% and 4%, respectively, vs. 6%.

And then there’s the barrage of headlines, from the early days of the pandemic: “Asians in the U.S. least likely to get coronavirus infection.” “Asians in the U.S. make up a small proportion of COVID-19 deaths.” “Asians in the U.S. experiencing only a slightly higher virus burden than white Americans.”

All great news, right? Well, yes ... if you stopped there. If you judged solely by the above you’d think Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — as the two are so often grouped — were among the least affected by the virus. End of story. But of course, I looked further, at the bigger picture. And that’s when I was met with very different headlines and much less positive findings.

The truth is low numbers are not always low numbers. Sometimes, and sadly more often than not, especially when people of color and immigrants are the ones being surveyed, low numbers are merely stand-ins for under testing, stigma and a lack of detailed ethnicity data. Sometimes, sadly, low numbers are merely stand-ins for the real, usually larger ones.

When looking at data quantifying the impact of COVID-19 on Asian communities, it’s important to keep in mind that most data presented by the Centers for Disease Control, as well as at the state and county level, tend to lump all Asians together, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, director of the research firm AAPI Data.