Latino Life: More Latinos in California are dying of COVID-19

ByGraciela Moreno and Aurora Diaz KFSN logo
Sunday, August 23, 2020
Latino Life: More Latinos in California are dying of COVID-19
According to the California Department of Public Health, as of August 16, 2020, California has more than 628,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 60 percent are Latinos.

Latinos are dying of COVID-19 at higher rates than other groups.

Latino Life takes a closer look at some of the factors leading to these higher numbers.

With more than 50,000 cases of COVID-19 in the Central Valley, many families are feeling the impact physically, financially and emotionally.

The virus is hitting Latinos in the Valley and across the state especially hard.

According to the California Department of Public Health, as of August 16, 2020, California has more than 628,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 60 percent are Latinos.

Latinos are also dying at a higher rate, making up nearly 48 percent of COVID deaths in the state, even though they are 39 percent of the population.

Local and state advocates point out many Latinos are essential workers. In the case of farmworkers, there are several challenges, including often crowded living and workspaces.

For many, language is also a barrier when it comes to getting proper information about the coronavirus.

California Farmworker Foundation is providing free COVID-19 testing to Central Valley farmworkers at their work sites. The program kicked off in Kern County and is expanding to other Central Valley areas.

California Farmworker Foundation Executive Director Hernan Hernandez says data reveals that many workers in the farming industry are hesitant to get tested at a hospital or clinic because they think they may get COVID there.

But he says statistics also show that most farmworkers would get a test if it was offered at their job.

"So we have to create spaces like these like the ones we see here today, where it's inclusive, where they feel safe, where they feel comfortable so that therefore, they can get COVID-19 testing and we can know exactly how the spread is," said Hernandez.

Dr. Rafael Martinez with United Health Centers joined Latino Life host Graciela Moreno via Skype to talk about COVID-19 and testing available.

Graciela: So, Dr. Martinez, you work out of Parlier, which has a large Latino community. How hard has that area been hit with COVID-19?

Dr. Rafael Martinez: I would say it's been hit pretty hard. Most recently, in the last two months, we've seen a rapid increase in the number of cases that we're diagnosing every day, and a lot of those reasons were some of the things that your video just highlighted. You know, a lot of the people that compromise this community in Parlier are primarily farmworkers, and a lot of them we consider to be part of our most vulnerable population. And, oftentimes, these people are the ones that can contract the virus with much greater ease, so, yeah, we've definitely seen a large number increase in COVID cases over the last couple months.

Graciela: Now, our producer was telling us that you see anywhere from 10 to 15 cases a day and, as a matter of fact, you were the first person -- the doctor who diagnosed Parlier's first case all the way back in March, right?

Dr. Martinez: Yeah, we were pretty good at pioneering pretty rapid testing early on during the pandemic, so we were very fortunate to be doing that from the very beginning. It became a novelty in the beginning, and now we see so many of them every single day It's become a little bit of a tough pill to swallow just because we see how rapidly it's spread throughout this community.

Graciela: So, tell us a little bit more about some of the risk factors, because the numbers in the Latino community really are startling. I know that we talk about them being employed in a lot of these kinds of jobs where they are essential. They need to go to work every single day, and, oftentimes, they need to work in close contact with some of their fellow employees. But what are some of the other factors that you're seeing in terms of maybe the situation at home, maybe some of the ailments like diabetes and whatnot. Tell us about those.

Dr. Martinez: Yeah, well, certainly everything you just mentioned stands -- you know, a large portion of our population here are farmworkers and oftentimes have to work very close to each other in large groups. Oftentimes, they don't have a very isolated area to live at home. They live together with sometimes multigenerational families, and when you take all of that into account, it's harder to isolate from other people. You know, they definitely are a population that can't stay at home and work from their computer. They have to go home and provide for their families, and so a lot of these things put them more at risk just for contracting the virus and then spreading it to their loved ones when I'm sure that's not their intention. And I'm glad you pointed out the comorbidities because we do see a high prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity in the Latino population, definitely here in the Central Valley, and although that is linked to having higher complications of COVID-19, I can't say for a fact that that is linked to contracting the virus more, more than the societal and the environmental life changes that we live through as Latinos.

Graciela: And I know that there are also a lot of myths surrounding the coronavirus because we know so little about it. I know that I can tell you, personally, when my mother contracted COVID, she was so scared of going to the hospital. She was even scared of getting tested. Do you see that a lot in the communities that you serve?

Dr. Martinez: Yeah, absolutely. And that's a great point. I feel like when I talk to patients about the possibility of getting screened for this virus, I always address that from the very early on of the conversation because there's a big reluctance in a lot of people wanting to come and get tested because they think they might be exposed to sick people who are here. And so that is one of the common myths that I most often have to correct and elaborate on, because most of the time, these places that you're getting tested, places like United Health Centers, you're getting tested with people wearing proper protective gear. You're being tested, most of the time, in your car, so we don't actually ask you to come inside the clinic, so a very safe environment and the risk of getting infected with COVID while you're getting tested for COVID is very, very low. We do a pretty good job of minimizing all the risks to make sure everyone is sterile and to minimize the risk of cross-contamination.

Graciela: And I know we keep hearing so much about the importance of wearing that mask, of handwashing, of social distancing. So, is there a right way to do it? Because I know a lot of us are throwing on that mask every single day and then maybe setting it aside after we do a couple of things in the car and whatnot, and then putting it back on and just touching it excessively, so tell us what we need to be doing.

Dr. Martinez: Yeah, so, you know, basically, anytime you're sick, you wear a mask when you're inside you're home. Anytime you're going to leave your home, whether you're sick or not, you wear a mask. So if you're leaving your house to go to the grocery store or to get gas, just go ahead and wear a mask, and I actually have just a regular surgical mask here with me, and what we want people to do is basically put it over their mouth and their nose. I've seen a lot of people do this right here. (under nose) That's not okay. This right here...(under chin) is not okay so you can talk. We basically want it to cover the nose and the mouth. So we want you to basically cover all of the entry points to your respiratory tract so that we can minimize the spread of infection. So wearing a mask is definitely important, but it's just as important to wear it correctly.

Graciela: I totally agree there, and I also know that we just showed video of some of the free testing that is offered through United Health Centers. Tell us about that because I know that there's still a lot of folks out there that can't seem to find a place to go.

Dr. Martinez: Yeah, so, we have a variety of health centers throughout Fresno County, and you can -- basically, we have drive-through testing at every single center Monday through Friday, some centers on Saturday. And there's a lot of grants that people can qualify for. You just call the number you see on this screen. There's bilingual staff at every single one of our health centers to really facilitate the process of being able to get tested because, really, you know, that's kind of the most important thing to do. If you feel you've been exposed or you feel like you have symptoms, we need to know right away if you are a carrier of this virus so that we can potentially prevent this person from passing it along to other people. So we do a pretty good job at answering everyone's questions, making sure that they don't feel lost in the healthcare system, which oftentimes can be verychallenging and very difficult to figure out, especially for people who perhaps don't have the best health literacy in the Central Valley.

Graciela: Alright. Thank you so much, Dr. Martinez, for being on our program, and of course thank you for the work that you're doing out in Parlier.

Dr. Martinez: Yeah, thank you for having me.

Information on COVID-19 Testing

United Health Centers