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Covid-19's 'catastrophic' impact on Latino communities is driven by 'savage disparities,' leaders and lawmakers say

Shelby Lin Erdman


May 29, 2020

(CNN)Disproportionate numbers of Latino Americans are dying from Covid-19, similar to other minority groups, as the coronavirus pandemic continues spreading through the United States, community leaders and US lawmakers said at a town hall Wednesday.

"Twenty-five percent of the deaths from coronavirus have been Latinos, in spite of the fact that Latinos are 18% of the population," Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said during the event, which was sponsored by the nation's largest Latino civil rights group, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and Univision News.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics shows almost 17% of Covid-19 deaths were among Latinos while the group makes up just over 18% of the US population. However the data from the center is based on death certificates and the reporting can be delayed between one to eight weeks, which means it's not a fully accurate statistic at any given moment.

While the available numbers are grim, they are also incomplete because much of the state and federal data on Covid-19 deaths are preliminary and information on race and ethnicity isn't available for tens of thousands of cases, CNN reported recently.

Latinos are at higher risk because of their jobs

The CEO of LULAC, Sindy Benavides, believes the high number of Covid-19 cases and deaths within the Latino community is directly related to their jobs.

"So many Latinos are contracting Covid-19, because they are the essential workers, because they're leaving their houses every single day. We're seeing our loved ones, every single day, whether they're getting sick or they're in the hospitals and they're even dying," Benavides said. These essential workers are risking their lives and being treated as "disposable workers in many locations throughout the country," LULAC National President Domingo Garcia said.

Garcia said many of these frontline workers are providing a safe food supply to grocery stores and American families. He said some companies are doing better with testing and paid sick leave now compared to four weeks ago.

"But a lot of companies need to do better and LULAC is fighting to make sure that (happens). These essential workers, not only the meat packing and poultry, but also farm workers, are starting to get sick and that's going to affect our vegetables," he said. "The frontline workers that are essential workers, the delivery trucks, the people in the grocery stores, the people at the warehouses delivering your Amazon products, most of them are Latinos," Garcia said.

'Savage disparities' are to blame for high infection and death rates

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who participated in the town hall, said the jobs many Latinos perform are only partly to blame for the disproportionate numbers.

"The other reason is health care coverage and pre-existing conditions. The fact that even though we made progress under the Affordable Care Act, there's still too many Latinos who don't have health care, and that means they don't get the health care primary checkups they need to detect illnesses, and then those illnesses, ultimately with this pandemic, can be more than a serious health challenge, they can become deadly," he said.

Menendez's colleague Sen. Cory Booker joined the discussion and blamed "savage disparities" for the coronavirus's impact on Latinos. "We see savage disparities in our economics and clearly there are savage disparities in healthcare outcomes that are the result of everything from environmental injustices to access to health care. So, when you have these disparities that already exist and a pandemic comes along, it feasts upon those disparities and worsens them, aggravates them, further ignites them," Booker said.

Pandemic wreaks financial devastation among Latinos

Town hall moderator and journalist Jorge Ramos said the pandemic has also financially devastated Latino communities. "The impact of COVID-19 among Latinos has been catastrophic," Ramos said. "In one out of five Hispanic households, at least one of its members has lost his or her job in the last two months. Unemployment is the highest ever recorded."

Millions of Americans have applied for unemployment benefits since March and the numbers are continuing to grow "We are living in the midst of the worst crisis in the modern history of America," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told the town hall. "It's not just Latinos who are massively unemployed, 38 million Americans have applied for unemployment compensation in the last two months. That's unprecedented," Sanders said.

"You got people today in my state of Vermont and all over this country who are hungry, people worried about being evicted, people worried about losing their homes. One third of Americans are suffering from emotional distress or anxiety associated with the healthcare crisis and the economic crisis."

As of May 8, 39 states and the District of Columbia were reporting the race and ethnicity of Americans who have died from Covid-19. So the full scope of the pandemic's impact on minority populations is still unclear.

A recent study by amfAR, the AIDS research nonprofit, and a team of scientists at four US universities found that a disproportionate number of African-Americans are also dying from Covid-19.

"Social conditions, structural racism, and other factors elevate risk for COVID-19 diagnoses and deaths in black communities," wrote the researchers from Emory University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Mississippi and Georgetown University.