COVID-19 hitting Latinos in California especially hard: ‘We have Latinos working as essential workers’

Coronavirus

FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting California’s Latino population especially hard, and in Fresno County, the health department believes underlying health conditions and the jobs they work in are factors.

In California, Latinos make up 38.9% of the population. However, as of July 7, they made 54.6% of the COVID-19 cases and 42.6% of the COVID-19 related deaths in the state.

“We have Latinos working as essential workers, we have them out on the fields, we have them in our local stores, meat packing agencies,” said Leticia Berber, a health educator with the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

Josefa Vega is the regional coordinator with Mi Familia Vota, an organization that’s been doing outreach and providing COVID-19 information in the Latino community. Vega said the people they’ve been in contact with who have contracted the virus were exposed at their jobs.

“It’s kind of impossible to social distance in a workspace, whether it’d be in a warehouse, a meat plant, out in the fields, you’re in close quarters with folks. A lot of the members of our community carpool, that’s another key issue,” Vega said.

Berber said the Fresno County Department of Public Health also thinks underlying health conditions is a factor.

“There is a high percentage of obesity and diabetes,” she said. “Diabetes runs very deep in the Hispanic community in Fresno County.”

She said moving forward, the health department is partnering with community-based organizations to reach out to the Latino population and communicate essential COVID-19 information.

“We have our Latinos and African Americans being disproportionately affected by this and we have a lot of work to do,” Berber said.

It’s not clear as to how many of Fresno County’s cases are within the Latino community.

As of Wednesday morning, Fresno County’s COVID-19 dashboard stated that Latinos made up about 61% of the COVID-19 cases, however, after it was updated later in the day, it decreased to 48.2%. When asked about the significant change, the Fresno County Department of Public Health said because the case counts are getting higher, it’s becoming harder to keep up, so the ones they haven’t gotten to investigating go into the “unknown” pile, which decreases the percentages for the ethnicities.

According to the U.S. Census, the Latino community makes up 65.6% of Tulare County’s population. In the county, Latinos make up about half of the COVID-19 cases, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, said Carrie Monteiro, the county’s health and human services agency’s public information officer.

“Looking at the numbers, it is difficult to say if the Latino community has been disproportionately affected, they are our largest group with 50% of cases by ethnicity, however, it’s important to note that we have over 35% of our cases we have not been provided the race or ethnicity, demographic information from those cases, so we must keep in mind that the information isn’t complete,” Monteiro said.

She said they’ve seen a large number of cases come from the farm worker and agriculture community.

She said the agency has been working with community partners and advocacy groups in order to get information and resources to workers.

“We ran into cases where they contracted COVID-19 but they have hardships in the family in that they are the sole providers for the home,” Monteiro said.

She said because of this, they have built resources in which the agency can get food and other necessities to the families so that they can properly self-isolate at home.

Monteiro added that they’re looking at getting mobile testing in rural areas.

“We’re in early discussions of how we can utilize our resources here at the health department to have mobile testing with our local medical providers,” she said. “So an individual that may be in a rural Latino community and may not have the means to get to a testing site, we’re looking for ways to get mobile testing to them,” she said.

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