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While it’s true that anyone could contract COVID-19, growing data shows the virus is infecting and killing people in Latino and Black communities across the country at a disturbing rate.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinos have been hospitalized nationwide at a rate of more than four times that of white people. For Black Americans, the hospitalization rate is about five times that of White Americans.
Rogelio Saenz, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s College for Health Community and Policy, has been studying the death and infection rates for Latinos since the pandemic started.
Saenz said that Latinos are “overwhelmingly” overrepresented among people who have been infected with the virus.
In his latest report, Dr. Saenz noted that Latinos are now overrepresented among people who have caught the virus in 43 of the 44 states that provide race information.
And these numbers just scratch the surface, he said.
Both the Latino and Black communities are younger, on average, than compared to white people, and because COVID-19 is believed to be a disease that is more dangerous for the elderly, one might expect these communities would be dying at a lower rate. But that is not the case.
“Overall Latinos, we’re succumbing to the disease at about rates of about two- to two-and-a-half times higher than the white population,” said Saenz. “And in the case of African-Americans, it’s still higher, about three and a half times higher.”
Now that states have started to reopen, many Latino and Black Americans have returned to jobs that require them to be in contact with more people, and therefore more likely to contract COVID-19.
The death rates are more startling for the 25-54 age group.
“You really have the workforce there. You have Latinos dying at rates that are six, seven, eight times higher than the white population,” said Saenz. “The same thing is going on with African-Americans.”
These stats are an indication of deeper problems many communities, including San Antonio, have been faced with since the pandemic started.
Kiran Kaur Bains, director of community impact for SA2020, says much of this discussion comes down to social equity.
“I think if we’re talking about equity, one of the elephants in the room across the board is race,” said Bains.
Social equity focuses on justice and fairness, with the idea that public administrators will ensure social services are delivered equally.
“In Bexar County, there definitely is this divide. So in terms of infection and exposure, that’s very closely associated with socioeconomic status and that happens to also be associated with whether or not you’re Latino,” said Lloyd Potter, Texas State demographer.
“We’ve also always had that unenviable distinction of being the city with the greatest economic segregation,” Saenz said.
Experts say some of our city’s socioeconomic divisions can be traced to redlining.
Redlining was a systemic denial of government services, including federally backed mortgages, to people of color during Jim Crow and after Brown v. Board of Education, effectively continuing segregation under a different name.
“It was very specifically saying Black people and Latinos in communities are considered high risk and therefore should not have access to things like home loans, which then affects generational wealth,” said Bains.
Decades later, many communities still have scars from those racist practices by the U.S. government and the makeup of many neighborhoods are directly connected to them.
The challenge moving forward will be investing in long-term programs to train the workforce and public policy that can close the gap the pandemic has exposed, he said.
“We’re beginning to see some of that in terms of stimulus funds the city is using. This is one of the ways that you can start doing this, providing that reskilling that is going to be much more needed,” said Saenz.
“We cannot make sense of complex community challenges unless we’re paying attention to history,” said Bains.