by Jonathan Mulenga and Fatima Zavala
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed racial health disparities, specifically impacting African American and Latino communities. Coronavirus hit at disproportionate rates for communities of color. On May 9, 2021 the rate of cases for COVID-19, for instance, in white communities was 2,754 per 100,000, while Latino communities had a rate of 9,992 per 100,000 people. In King County, 62% of white communities are vaccinated while only 46% of the Latino population have been vaccinated. Latino Americans are four times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than their white counterparts. Though jarring, this is not surprising.
For many years, discrimination against Latino communities has caused health disparities. All of this has only been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. To end this, we need to act now to make healthcare more equitable for Hispanic and Latino communities regardless of their immigration status. We decided to write this op-ed as People of Color due to April being National Minority Health Month — contributing as much as we could to help bring Latino health disparities to light, we chose to focus on building awareness that could bring about change.
Without focus on the specific challenges to the Latino community, we will continue to see cases like that of Jesus Díaz. Jesus Díaz went to the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley but was denied the COVID-19 vaccine because he failed to provide his social security number. This should not have happened: Biden stated that the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan would go toward everyone regardless of immigration status. Yet, Díaz was one of the 14 people who were denied vaccination at the same institution. The Washington Post reported that a staff member told Díaz, “vaccines here are exclusive for American citizens and legal residents of this country.”
Seeing nothing wrong with a man who simply wants to protect others being discriminated against for it is not what we do as a nation. Though the university has apologized for their behavior, the damage is done. This is someone’s husband and father who is at high risk for acquiring COVID-19. Many Hispanics and Latino people have many barriers that prevent them from trusting medical professionals, and this only magnifies the fear of government-run programs to help with health care. We need more programs and resources for these communities so we can crawl out of this loop and help people like Díaz who want to protect others and themselves by getting vaccinated.
Studies show that people like Díaz need to be vaccinated. Latino communities have disproportionately higher rates of COVID-19 compared to their white counterparts due to jobs, health conditions, and inequities. Latinos are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 due to their disproportionate representation in essential jobs such as food processors, custodians, and cashiers. These essential workers are more likely exposed to COVID-19 for a longer time than others and these are jobs that Latino people work at in high numbers. Additionally, because of historical and structural racism, as well as the lack of access to resources like healthy foods, Latinos tend to have underlying health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This in turn can lead to higher risk of COVID-19 health complications. All of these inequities combined contribute to the high COVID-19 rates in Latino communities.
Dr. Aletha Maybank, expert in prioritizing equity at the American Medical Association (AMA), emphasizes the importance of the pandemic’s impact on Latino communities. Maybank stated, “There’s this constant tension and reality about the invisibility of people. And I think Latinx communities, as well as Native communities, have not received as much attention from the media even though there are communities experiencing great inequities, and I think it’s just really important that we talk about and highlight it.” Inclusivity is very important for creating equitable spaces and we can’t fix a problem that we don’t know about.
Getting accurate information to Latino communities is also an important step in inclusivity. Dr. Flores Uribe, who works for the Department of Health Services in New York stated, “In that, 49% of our population (for a single health department) actually prefers Spanish as their primary language. So we’re really talking about the majority of our patients having a language other than English that they would … require an interpreter in order to make an informed decision.” With the many barriers that this community faces, it is difficult for them to communicate and trust during these times and to find out about the benefits of getting vaccinated.
This is vital because we are talking about people who are high risk and are essential workers. The people who keep our country running and are risking their lives to get us everyday essentials do not have the resources and health benefits they deserve. Latino communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to health disparities from lack of healthcare access for underlying health conditions. Vaccines should be accessible to everyone regardless of citizenship status. By vaccinating everyone, we’re reducing their risk but we’re also reducing the risk to other people, which benefits everyone. Latino people also tend to have higher exposure to COVID-19 because of the lack of regulation in these essential jobs. Regulations such as wearing a mask, social distancing, and paid sick leave should be put into place to ensure safe working places. To make sure that everyone stays safe, we must ensure that everyone has access to healthcare.
Jonathan Mulenga and Fatima Zavala are students at Auburn Mountainview High School and Highline High School.
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