Best of the States


AP marks 600,000-death milestone with distinctive data-driven look at COVID racial inequality

Jerry Ramos is remembered with a collection displayed at his home in Watsonville, Calif., June 6, 2021. A father and essential worker, Ramos died Feb. 15 at age 32, becoming one of more than 600,000 Americans who have perished in the pandemic — and an example of COVID-19’s strikingly uneven and ever-shifting toll on the nation’s racial and ethnic groups. Latinos between 30 and 39 have died at five times the rate of white people in the same age group.(AP Photo / Nic Coury)


The 600,000th COVID-19 death in the U.S. presented a big challenge: How to bring fresh perspective to yet another milestone, just months after we crossed the 400,000 and 500,000 marks.

The trio of Seattle-based medical writer Carla K. Johnson, Los Angeles-based data journalist Angel Kastanis and San Francisco reporter Olga Rodriguez met the challenge and then some, delivering an Only-on-AP data analysis that showed how the virus has exploited racial inequalities as it cut a swath through the country.

Kastanis analyzed death and demographic data of all 600,000 deaths to show the uneven toll during the various phases of the pandemic: First Black Americans were hit hard,then Latinos,then Latinos and white citizens,and now the Black community is again affected disproportionately. The data also showed that the virus is exacting a vicious toll on younger Latinos,with 37% of Hispanic deaths under the age of 65,compared with 12% for white people.

Rodriguez reported on a Latino family representing the trends that became the story’s lead: The family’s 32-year-old father,Jerry Ramos,an essential worker in California, died during the winter surge. Freelance photographer Nic Coury made poignant photos of the family.

Johnson served as the lead writer on the package and rounded out the story with medical analysis,perspective and reporting, including a Black medical researcher in Baltimore who talked about her own experiences with the virus. Top stories newsperson Pete Brown edited the piece and Kastanis worked with top stories senior creative lead Phil Holm on informational graphics. Holm also teamed up with health and science data journalist Nicky Forster on an engaging interactive map of the U.S. showing the virus advancing geographically to the 600,000 mark.

The package resonated with readers and customers,with the story making the front pages of newspapers in Portland,St. Louis,the Chicago Tribune,Orlando and elsewhere. The Los Angeles Times ran the piece and it was among the top stories on AP News,where the majority of pageviews came from Facebook interactions.

For a shining example of AP collaboration across teams,using sharp data analysis and on-the-ground reporting to reveal the pandemic’s impact on communities of color,the team of Johnson, Kastanis and Rodriguez receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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