Latinos and Spanish-speakers are disproportionately contracting COVID-19 in Sacramento, according to recent data by the county health department.
Since March, the county has classified nearly 600 cases as from "Hispanic" residents, making up a third of the county’s overall coronavirus numbers. This is despite the fact that Latinos make up just a little under a quarter of the county’s population, according to the most recent census data, and that more than a quarter of cases don't have a reported race.
“The disproportionate rates of infection we’re seeing are merely the symptoms of a much larger underlying issue," said Seciah Aquino, deputy director for the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. "We actually shouldn’t be surprised that communities of color who have been systematically disenfranchised are now experiencing higher rates of disease. “When we think about the quarantine and being able to stay at home, that is not a privilege that many Latinos can afford.”
The Latino Coalition for a Healthy California and other organizations that represent frontline workers — like those in the service and hospitality industries, farm work, packaging plants and healthcare — all agree that Latinos make up a significant chunk of these industries that are often required to continue to interface with others or work in close quarters.
“We’ve heard that among farmworkers, the rates are going up, precautions are not being enforced as well and because the farmworking industry is such that you do need to work next to others, it is much more difficult to keep that six feet of distance that is recommended,” Aquino said. “In order for our economy to be healthy, we need to ensure that the people who contribute to the economy are also healthy.”
Recently, coronavirus cases in meat processing plants and a pistachio processing plant in Southern California have been reported. She added that in addition to having to work jobs that may not be taking safety protocols seriously, many Latinos also struggled with health care access before the pandemic, and have also experienced high rates of unemployment. She also referenced the change in Public Charge Law, limiting undocumented immigrants’ access to healthcare that happened last summer.
“Because many of our families lived in mixed status families, it enacted a chilling effect. We saw that Latinos at every level of the immigration cycle, folks were disenrolling from benefits that were included in public charge,” Aquino said.
Arnulfo De La Cruz, vice president of SEIU Local 2015, a union that represents home health care aides and nursing home employees, added that many Latinos who work in these health care industries are suffering from not enough personal protective equipment and lack of safety standards.
SEIU Local 2015 represents around 400,000 home health workers and nursing home workers in California. He described a member who was working in a nursing home with a protective gear shortage.
“He’s terrified, you know. He loves what he does, he says bye to his wife and children and then he is nervous about the conditions he’s working in,” De La Cruz said. "He’s fighting to ensure that he and his coworkers have adequate protection, especially in the COVID ward and he feels like far too often the employer is falling short."
The Center for Workers’ Rights in Sacramento has been working on proposals to ask that the City Council create formal protections for low-wage frontline workers. Daniela Urban, director of the center, said they’ve been looking to create policy changes that could allow workers to decline to work if safety standards aren’t met. She mentioned she was hearing of many employees who were afraid to return to work because of a lack of safety standards being followed.
“Workers are growing frustrated that employers haven’t figured out how to implement safety protections for them. It’s now been four months in the pandemic and still having enough disposable masks in a health facility, or a cleaning protocol or separation of patients, all of these are basic standards that employers should have figured out,” she said. “[Workers] continue to expose themselves to this risk and there hasn’t been any response from employers to make it safe.”
She added that over 40% of the calls that come into the Workers Rights helpline are from Spanish speakers.
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