SALT LAKE CITY — Black Americans could be more likely to contract COVID-19 and die because of it than white Americans because they hold a disproportionately high number of essential-worker positions, University of Utah Health researchers found in a recent study.

Biostatisticians from the university collected and analyzed population data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey along with data on COVID-19 deaths in April from state health department websites, excluding states that don’t break down deaths by race or ethnicity.

The research was published in World Medical & Health Policy.

The study found that among the states examined, the prevalence of Black deaths was 20.76% while they account for 12.14% of the population. Researchers noted the trend within 26 states and Washington, D.C. For example, in Wisconsin, while Blacks compromise 6.17% of the population, they accounted for 36.49% of the state’s deaths. Michigan and New York also saw high disproportionate rates.

Compared with whites, Blacks were at the same time “more likely to work in jobs considered essential during the COVID‐19 pandemic,” according to the study.

The five occupations with the highest disparities between Blacks and whites include transportation, material moving, health care support, food service, building and grounds cleaning and maintenance, and personal care and service — occupations considered essential during a pandemic.

“There are a lot of theories why Blacks are dying at higher rates than other races during this pandemic,” Fares Qeadan, U. Health biostatistician and senior author of the study, said in a statement.

“However, our descriptive study strongly suggests that Blacks are not dying from COVID-19 because they are genetically more susceptible, have more comorbidities, or aren’t taking the necessary precautions. Instead, it’s likely because they are working in jobs where they have a greater risk of coming in contact with the virus day in and day out,” Qeadan said.

The researchers call for disaggregation of state and county-level death data by race and ethnicity to allow “timely adjustments to response practices during public health crises.”

“I find it ironic that the people we depend on as essential workers to wipe down our counters and keep things clean are the most vulnerable among us,” said Tiana N. Rogers, corresponding author of the study and program manager in the David Eccles School of Business, in a statement.

“We need to make sure that the people doing these jobs can continue to provide for their families without having to risk their lives,” Rogers said.

The findings of the study largely align with what experts have said of other minority communities in Utah that have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus and hold many essential worker positions in the state.

In Utah, Hispanics and Latinos account for 35.5% of the state’s cases but just 14.2% of the population, according to the Utah Department of Health. They also account for 96 of the state’s 424 deaths, or 22.6%.

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have also been hard-hit in the state, as they make up 34, or 8%, of the state’s deaths but account for just 2.3% of the population.

New cases

Utah health officials reported another 326 COVID-19 cases and one additional death on Tuesday.

The new cases were confirmed out of 3,604 tests, with a 9% positive rate, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Now 55,359 out of 695,347 people have tested positive for the disease in Utah since the pandemic began — an 8% rate.

The rolling, seven-day average of new cases as of Tuesday is 420, and the average positive test rate is 9.3%. Currently, 115 patients are hospitalized with the disease in Utah, five fewer than on Monday. Hospitalizations in Utah since the outbreak started now total 3,242.

The death reported Tuesday — a Salt Lake County man older than 85 who was a long-term care resident — brings the state’s toll to 424.

About 46,700 of Utah’s cases are considered recovered after passing the three-week point since their diagnoses, meaning about 8,500 infections remain active.

School cases

As of Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health tallies 38 school outbreaks — in which two or more cases were traced to a known school location, time and contact — resulting in 172 cases.

But school districts are tracking far more cases in students and staff members, contracted both outside and inside the classroom.

Three school districts in the state are providing updates on COVID-19 case totals on their own — Granite, Alpine and Jordan.

In Granite School District, there are 22 confirmed cases in students and staff at elementary schools; 11 at junior high schools; and 25 at high schools, according to the latest data from the district. Just one class is quarantined in the district. Of the cases districtwide, 48 are students and 12 are staff members.

Just two schools in Granite School District have more than four cases — Granger High School, with 11 cases, and Kearns High School, with eight.

In Alpine School District — the largest in the state — 39 junior high and high school students tested positive for the virus so far, as well as six elementary students and 30 staff members, according to district officials. In total the district has 75 cases.

In Jordan School District, as of its last update, 19 students and one employee tested positive for COVID-19 and have active infections. But just over 500 students and employees were placed in quarantine after close contact with an infected person, district officials said. Four classes are quarantined.