misleading data shows covid-19 cases drop in latino population

By Albert Gregory

Family members embrace after quarantining during the initial wave of the pandemic. (Photo by Pocho Sanchez)

In Sonoma County the Latino population’s proportion of coronavirus cases has recently decreased due to aggressive community-based outreach and a rise in COVID-19 cases among Non-Latino populations, according to officials in Sonoma County’s media briefing Monday.

The COVID-19 cases the Latino population made up has dropped from 77% in June to 51% at the end of August, according to Paul Gullixson, the communications manager for Sonoma County. 

“We have done a lot of outreach in the Latino community; we’ve done a lot of pop-up testing. Every weekend we have a pop-up testing specifically for the Latinx group,” said Sonoma County health officer Dr. Sundari Mase. “We’ve done testing among farm workers, vineyard workers and put out all kind of messages through the bilingual radio stations, the Spanish speaking radio stations, etc.” 

Coronavirus cases in Sonoma County have gone down as a whole over the last three weeks, but an increase in other ethnic groups’ positive cases may be accountable for this shift in the scales, according to Mase.

“We may have had more cases occurring in the non-Latinx population that coincided with more people being out and about than just the essential workforce. We are probably seeing a shift to a decreased proportion of our cases being Latinx because we’ve had more cases in non-Latinx, in other words non-Hispanic, white people and other race and ethnic groups,” Mase said. 

The Latino population still makes up a much larger ratio of cases in Sonoma County compared to the next closest ethnic group, which is the white population that makes up 16% of cases, according to socoemergency.org, a county-sponsored website that provides emergency preparadness information. 

COVID-19 has heavily impacted areas that have a big Latino population, like Roseland in Santa Rosa, largely due to a lot of them working in essential jobs, according to Gullixson,. 

“The Roseland-area population doesn’t have jobs where you just stay home,” said Mariana Martinez, a longtime Roseland resident and member of Santa Rosa Junior College’s Board of Trustees. “They work in all of the service areas that we still want them to be working and, unfortunately, they don’t have as much protection.  I mean they’re not the nurses and the doctors, but instead they’re the ones that have to clean houses or work in the fields or in poultry or jobs in which they have to be in contact with other folks.” 

Working in some of these low paying jobs and living in expensive Sonoma County leads many to reside in households with large extended families, which makes quarantining difficult, according to Gullixson. 

“They’re also the ones who live in an apartment, not necessarily a home, with multiple families. That has an impact, right? Because it’s not like they can go ahead and protect themselves like with people who have a house that can come in, shower and have space in between themselves,” Martinez said. “We also live in an area that’s very dense, everything is really close to each other, including the apartment complexes.”

Undocumented people within the Latino population have also been affected tremendously by the coronavirus and some have been afraid to reach out for care, especially after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers engaged in roundups in July and August in Sonoma County, according to Gullixson. 

“That appeared to have a chilling effect on the willingness of some, within our Latinx community, to work with our healthcare workers and come out and be tested and report when they’ve been, or feared that they’ve been, exposed to someone who is positive. In those situations, the Latinx community just shuts down,” he said. 

The immigrant population, which represents some of the lower income residents, has been particularly affected not just by COVID-19 but by the economic crisis, according to Gullixson,. 

“Due to the already existent socioeconomic, health, and equity disparities, the undocumented community has been very hard hit. We have received many phone calls from families looking for rental assistance. Undocumented workers who are not eligible for state and federal benefits have been left out,” said Saraisabel Virgen, the program coordinator at Latino Service Providers, a nonprofit organization located in Santa Rosa that serves the Latino population in Sonoma County. 

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