Sac Bee: COVID-19 is still ‘attacking Latino households’ in California eight months into the pandemic
By: Kim Bojorquez
At a small gathering in mid-June, Monse Villarreal celebrated her college graduation at her family’s Sacramento home. The graduation ceremony had gone virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the first person in her household to graduate from college, it was important for the 22-year-old to mark the milestone with her loved ones.
But more than two weeks after the gathering, her grandmother, Hermelinda Ruiz, had trouble breathing and chest pain.
The graduation party was the last time she saw her grandmother alive.
Eight months into the global health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t showing signs of slowing down in California’s Latino communities.
It’s infected over half a million Latinos in the state and killed more than 9,000, public health data shows.
“I feel like now more than ever, that we are not getting listened to, and so many people are just falling through the cracks,” Villarreal said.
In California, Latinos represent about 40% of the population but account for 59% of COVID-19 cases and 48.5% of virus-related deaths.
“It’s still been a very big challenge,” said Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra about stemming the spread of the virus in the community. “When you look at who are the majority of essential workers that are still out there — exposed and can’t work from home — it’s by and large Latinos.”
In Sacramento County, where COVID-19 rates are climbing, the virus has infected more than 7,000 Latinos, who overall account for 30% of cases and 23.6% of the population.
Guerra fears the upcoming holidays will create a surge in those numbers.
“There’s going to be a strong urge to get together with families,” he said. “That’s part of our culture, but we want to remind people that, again, that if we love our families, we should take this time to take every precaution not to spread the virus.”
HEAVY TOLL ON LATINO CALIFORNIANS
At a recent two-hour webinar hosted by the California Latino Legislative Caucus, experts provided an update on how Latino communities are faring amid the pandemic.
“It’s attacking Latino households,” said Dr. David E. Hayes-Bautista, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the University of California, Los Angeles.
It doesn’t help, he said, that Latinos are twice as likely to be uninsured than other groups and many earn low wages, forcing them to work multiple jobs.
About 12% of California’s Latinos are uninsured, according to a California Latino Economic Institute brief.
The scarcity of Spanish-speaking Latino physicians in California also adds to the problem, he said.
Ana Padilla, executive director at the Community and Labor Center at the University of California, Merced, said Latino compliance with COVID-19 mandates is no different than that of non-Latinos, citing a UC Merced study.
Yet, Latinos in California have experienced a higher number of deaths during the pandemic than any other group, she said. Deaths among California Latinos are 36% higher this year than they were last year. Among white Californians, deaths have increased by about 6% compared to 2019.
“The virus is spreading in occupations where we find disadvantaged workers,” Padilla said about meatpacking and agricultural workers in the Central Valley. “Where we find disadvantaged workers we find workers who are afraid to report workplace, health and safety violations ... if we want to successfully mitigate the spread of the virus we need to support and protect workers so that they can come forward and report unsafe conditions without fear of retaliation.”
Los Angeles County, for example, has recorded 36,657 coronavirus cases among whites. Asian Americans and Blacks in the county account for 13,277 and 12,159 COVID-19 cases, respectively, county data shows. Latinos represent 158,474 cases.
A FAMILY’S LOSS
Norma Galindo, Ruiz’s daughter, doesn’t believe the graduation party was the source of her 67-year-old mother’s infection. She believes her mother contracted the virus through a relative visiting from out of the country.
When Ruiz’s illness showed no improvement, she was transported to the hospital by an ambulance and put on a ventilator.
“She was really sick at that point,” Villarreal said of her grandmother, “from the beginning all the way until the end.”
Ruiz spent 45 days intubated at a Sacramento hospital before dying on August 24, Galindo said.
“It is very hard to see your mom suffer and connected to a ventilator,” Galindo said in Spanish. “It’s difficult, it’s shocking.”
Galindo said it’s unfair that Ruiz did not receive the kind of attention given to President Donald Trump when he fell ill with COVID-19.
After her mother’s illness was confirmed as COVID-19, Galindo, her husband and two of her daughters, ages 7 and 18, also tested positive for the virus. She doesn’t know whether her family contracted the virus through her mother.
Aside from losing her sense of taste and smell, Galindo said her symptoms were mild. Since recovering, she and her husband continue working. Galindo works preparing meals at a local high school, and her husband works as a restaurant cook.
“The exposure is still out there when they can’t work from home,” Guerra said. “It reminds us that, while our effort was good to help slow down the spread in the middle of the summer, the need is much greater than what we expected. We have to get on it even more.”