Photo depicting the mural on the exterior of the Consejo Counseling and Referral Services building.

King County Council Candidates Host Forum on COVID-19 and the Latino Community

by Chamidae Ford

On March 15, Shukri Olow and Chris Franco hosted Beyond the Numbers: A Look at COVID-19’s Impact on the Latinx Community. The two-hour-long event featured several guest speakers who unpacked not just the statistics but a variety of factors, including access to health care, location, and age on the effects of COVID-19 on the Latino community. The event also featured live interpretation in Spanish by Maricela Rodriguez.

The evening started with an in-depth lecture by Dr. Rudy Rodriguez, an internist and nephrologist, who focused on statistics such as infection and death rates of COVID-19 in the Latino community. Rodriguez began his lecture by discussing demographics, including the percentage of the U.S. population that identifies as Latino, as well as income, geographic distribution, and access to health care. His lecture provided attendees with clear numbers and evidence to show the way COVID-19 has caused ripples through the Latino community. For instance, Latinos make up 18% of the United States population, yet they make up 20% of all COVID-19 cases.

Map of Washington State depicting COVID-19 cases and deaths. Lighter colored counties show a lower death and case rate per population. Darker colored counties are a higher rate of cases and deaths per population.
Map of Washington State showing COVID-19 cases and deaths within King County and Yakima County. Screenshot from Dr. Rudy Rodriguez’s presentation during Beyond the Numbers.

“In 2020 [COVID-19] became the number one cause of death among Hispanics and other populations. COVID has had a huge impact on life expectancy among all racial groups,” Dr. Rodriquez said. 

That being said, minority communities have been significantly more impacted by COVID-19.

“Pacific Islanders, Latinos, Indigenous populations, and African American populations all have 2.6 higher rates of death from COVID-19 [than white people],” said Dr. Rodriquez.

Stephanie Gallardo Lara, a teacher and community organizer, followed. Her lecture focused on the mental health impacts of COVID-19 on students. Her own insight as an educator provided a personal take on this issue, and she took a moment to describe what she sees every day in the classroom. 

“The reality is that the pandemic is one factor of so many factors that are affecting young people’s mental health,” Gallardo Lara said. “What we need to do is start listening to young people in order to understand what is actually going on with their mental health.” 

Gallardo Lara mentioned that while students may want to ask for help, not all feel comfortable doing so. 

“Three out of 4 [young people] have felt the need to ask for help regarding their physical and mental well being,” Gallardo Lara said. “[But] 2 out of 5 are not asking for the help they need.”

She also stressed that mental health issues can be shared by many members of the home. 

“If you are a mother or a father, a parent who is experiencing anxiety, it is very likely that the young person in your home is seeing that, witnessing that, and exchanging or sharing that energy one way or another,” Gallardo Lara said. “A lot of times mental health realities are shared through households.”

Continuing this discussion around mental health, Mario Paredes, the executive director of Consejo Counseling and Referral Services, provided information about the trends the organization has been seeing since COVID-19 began. In particular, he focused on the mental health impacts of COVID-19 in the Latino community, the rise in substance abuse, and an increase in domestic violence. 

“We have seen an increased demand for behavioral health service in the children, youth, adult, and older adult populations,” Paredes said.

For many of the people who are struggling during these times, behavioral needs are often ignored. Families with financial struggles, Paredes noted, must prioritize providing basic needs such as food and shelter for their families. 

That being said, Paredes delved into the ways Latino communities can utilize services such as Consejo Counseling to get help for issues such as mental health and domestic abuse. 

The program then went on to focus on the impact COVID-19 has had on farmworkers. David Morales, an attorney who works on protections for farmworkers, noted that this population has been heavily impacted by COVID-19.

He began his lecture discussing the early days of the pandemic, when measures to protect the health of farmworkers were not commonly enforced.

“Data from the Yakima County Health Department demonstrated that there were serious outbreaks at local beef-packing and fruit-packing plants in Yakima Valley and surrounding counties,” Morales said. “Around 30 employers refused testing for their workers during these critical outbreaks.” 

Because of the lack of enforcement, farmworkers had extremely high cases of COVID-19. 

“Farmworkers were overall 300–400% more likely to contract COVID in the workplace than other workers that continued working during the COVID outbreak,” Morales said.  

Morales also stressed that because the work that these people are doing is essential to providing food to people across the state and country, they deserve protection.

“The fact that someone has to work is not a reason to fail to protect them,” Morales said. “For many of them, the reality was employers did not give them the proper PPE, did not give them the proper distancing within the workplace, did not change the workplace conditions and workplace rules to allow them to safely distance themselves or do things that would prevent the spread of COVID-19.” 

Dianna Torres Angulo from Cielo, an organization that promotes community, self-sufficiency, and leadership to Latinos in the South Puget Sound, also continued this discussion on farmworker protections. Her lecture focused on the research done on workplace conditions for farmworkers. Torres Angulo detailed farmworkers’ experiences getting to work, what type of PPE was offered, access to restrooms at the workplace, and where these workers have been receiving information about COVID-19. 

Language barriers are a substantial obstacle the Latino community faces in terms of access to accurate and useful information about COVID-19, she said. 

“Only 23% of the families that spoke Spanish also spoke English in the home,” Torres Angulo said. “While most people think of English as a second language, for a lot of our Indigenous speaking community, Spanish is their second language, and they use that as their gateway to get information.” 

The program then began to focus on the medical impacts of COVID-19 on Latino children. Dr. Nathalia Jimenez, a pediatric anesthesiologist, discussed the severity of COVID-19 symptoms in children, and how different illnesses impact them. 

Pulling from a study that tested 130,000 children, 5,000 tested positive and 359 of the children had severe COVID-19 symptoms. The study found that the children with severe cases were more likely to be Children of Color.

“There is an over-representation of minority children,” Dr. Jimenez said. “If you look at severe illness, 30% of these kids that were severely ill were Hispanic, 33% were African American, and you have to take into consideration the proportion of these kids in the United States.” 

Despite these high overrepresentations, Dr. Jimenez emphasized that COVID-19 death rates among children remained low. 

Hugo Garcia, a loan risk manager for Craft3, a community development financial institution, talked about the impact of COVID-19 on Latino-owned small businesses. Garcia noted that while nearly every business in the state was hit hard by the pandemic over the past year, minority communities faced even greater economic and emotional hardship.

“Compared with white Americans, Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to have experienced job and other income losses since the pandemic,” Garcia said. “Those who have lost income are more likely to have found themselves in deep financial holes. That is on top of Black and Latinx Americans being more likely than white Americans to say that they are close to someone who has died of COVID-19, and less likely to say that they have received the vaccination.” 

The final speaker of the evening was Monica Mendoza-Castrejón, a public defense paralegal and a board member for the Latino Community Fund. Her lecture focused on the need for more accessible court systems for the Latino community and more vocal and aggressive leadership on issues important to the Latino community. One persistent problem she’s observed working as a paralegal is the lack of accessibility for her clients. 

“I have observed that there have been challenges with interpretation and access,” Mendoza-Castrejón said. “There have been internet disparities. We have great broadband access here in our state — we are very fortunate, but it can be better.” 

The event covered a wide range of topics and delved deeply into statistics while staying focused on the personal and emotional toll the last year has had on the Latino community, reminding the audience to be kind to ourselves and the people around us.

“Humans are not to be fixed, we are whole people as we are,” Gallardo Lara said. “We are going through the experiences that we are going through and with proper support and proper care and understanding, we will be able to make it through this.” 

You can watch an archived recording of the event here.

Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.

Featured Image: The offices of Consejo Counseling and Referral Services in Columbia City. A recent online forum explored how COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Washington’s Latino community, including economics, physical health, and mental health. (Photo: Andrew Engelson)

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