From early in the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders in California’s communities of color worried they would lose more lives to the virus than their white neighbors.
As the state's death numbers continue to roll in, their concerns are being captured in the data.
Latino Californians between the ages of 50 and 64 are dying at more than five times the rate of white people of the same age, according to a new report from the University of California, Los Angeles. Black people in that age group are dying at about three times the rate of white people.
Report co-author and UCLA professor David Hayes-Bautista said the trend is directly linked to the fact that Latino workers comprise much of the high-risk agricultural sector.
“Farmworkers work in large gangs, they often times sleep in barracks, they ride out in busses,” he said. “The packing house workers … they work shoulder to shoulder.”
He said at the start of the pandemic, these workers weren’t given adequate protective equipment, which allowed the virus to spread quickly throughout Latino communities.
“For the first two months we never thought of them as being as essential as physicians and nurses,” he said.
Workers in this sector don’t have the luxury of staying home, and they may be hesitant to ask for time off even if they feel sick, said Jeffrey Reynoso, executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.
“There really hasn’t been a value placed on these workers, and so they’re less likely to have access to health insurance, less likely to have access to worker benefits and be able to have sick pay,” he said.
Earlier this year, a push to expand Medi-Cal to undocumented seniors was left out of the state budget due to cost. Advocates hope these numbers will add fuel to the ongoing fight for broader health care access for this population.
Hayes-Bautista said as it stands, the common advice to call a doctor if you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms doesn’t work for much of the state’s Latino population.
“You can’t find a doctor who speaks Spanish, you don’t have health insurance, how are you going to do that?” he said. “A lot of Latinos haven’t gotten into the systems until after they’ve been exposed massively, eventually contract it, eventually develop a full-blown case of the disease, and then they show up at the ER”
Among people ages 65 to 79, Black and Latino Californians are dying at a similar rate, which is about four times higher than the death rate for white seniors. The study’s American Indian/Alaska Native rates and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander rates are considered unreliable because they are based on less than 30 deaths.
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