In California, Latinos bear the brunt force of the coronavirus

The 31-year-old has to pause to catch her breath, carries a can of oxygen with her wherever she goes, and walks with a cane — all of this since she contracted Covid-19 in May.

Her doctors told her that one side of her heart is now larger than the other, she says, but her heart is also broken after losing her father to the virus. His girlfriend also died, leaving their five young children without parents.

“I have no balance in my body,” Ruelas told CNN. “It’s hard for me to breathe, I can’t walk for too long without running out of breath. I have to constantly check my oxygen — something I would never even think of before. It sometimes drops so low, I feel like I’m breathing through a straw. Now I even have trouble sleeping. That was never an issue before. I just can’t do anything without help.”

Ruelas’ experience mirrors that of many other Latinos across the US, who have been disproportionately affected by coronavirus.

According to Johns Hopkins University, racial and ethnic information is only available for about 35% of all deaths in the United States, but even in that small percentage it is evident that Latinx Americans are unevenly impacted by the coronavirus in some regions. In fact, across the West, Latinos are bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

People who identify as Latinx are four times more likely to be hospitalized than White people, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts have said the Hispanic community has been disproportionately hurt by the coronavirus pandemic due to their jobs as essential workers and multigenerational living conditions.
In California, Latinos represent 60% of Covid cases and nearly 50% of deaths through August, according to the state’s department of public health, despite the fact that Latinos make up less than 40% of California’s population.

Los Angeles County, where Ruelas lives, has the highest number of cases and deaths. Again, the majority are Latinos.

Latinos are ‘significant portion’ of essential workforce

In every county in the state, Latinos are the most severely impacted by the virus, said Dr. Gil Chavez, an epidemiologist and co-chair of California’s Covid-19 testing task force — a position that pulled him back to work two months into his retirement.

“Latinos have some of the known factors for having really increased cases and having more bad cases than other members of the population,” Dr. Chavez told CNN. “We have very high rates of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and some of the immunocompromised conditions (like) obesity (and) smoking.”

These trends highlight historical issues for Latinos, not just in California but nationwide, such as social disparities in terms of financial opportunities, health care access and utilization.

In late July, the Kaiser Family Foundation released research that warned growing Covid-19 hotspots in the South and West at the time would likely widen disparities for people of color.

“The shifting surge in outbreaks to the South and West will likely exacerbate the disparate effects of COVID-19 for people of color,” KFF wrote in its report. “Hispanic people may be particularly hard hit as outbreaks rise in these areas.”

Many of the jobs Latinos have in California don’t allow for flexible schedules or for the work to be done from home, Dr. Chavez said, which also contributes to the high contraction rates.

“Latinos make really a very significant portion of what we would call the essential workforce,” Dr. Chavez said. “Latinos are heavily represented in many industries that provide vital services from growing food, to producing food, to working as support staff in hospitals/healthcare facilities, driving trucks and cars. Many of those occupations really put people in increased risk of exposure for Covid-19.”

This is most clearly evident in the agriculturally rich Central Valley of the state where at one point this summer, the positivity rate in the region soared to about 18%, prompting California Gov. Gavin Newsom to send in three support teams to provide clear messaging in English and Spanish.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Newsom said he sent the teams to eight of the hardest hit counties in the region — San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare, and Kern counties.

“There are certain parts of the state, certain regions, and certain sectors that are disproportionately impacted by the transmission of this virus,” the governor said in a July press conference.

The support teams are boosting testing and contact tracing efforts in alliance with social services support. That includes food and shelter for people who can’t go to work because they need to quarantine or isolate while sick with the virus or after exposure to someone who did test positive.

The positivity rate has since dropped in the region, but is still about double that of the statewide positivity rate which is currently around 6%, according to state data.

The California Farmworker Foundation is also now offering free testing at work…

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