By Arturo Castañares
San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten released new statistics showing that Latinos have borne a disproportionate level of COVID-19 infections in the County and she offered some possible reasons for the high number of cases in the community.
Latinos make up 67% of the nearly 10,000 cases in the county that have patients’ racial information, even though Latinos make up only 34% of the county’s population, resulting in a rate of infection of 470 per 100,000 residents. Comparatively, African-American cases are 202 for every 100,000 residents and 118 whites per 100,000 residents.
COVID-19 related deaths among Latinos in the county total 139, or about 43% of the region’s 319 COVID-19 deaths, the highest of any racial demographic.
“There are multiple reasons why the virus is having a more severe impact in the Latino community,” said Dr. Wooten, who is a medical doctor and holds a Masters’ Degree in Public Health.
Dr. Wooten offered a few reasons why Latinos may be disproportionately affected, including that Latinos are more likely to be essential or frontline workers, including service and construction jobs; Latinos have more underlying medical conditions due to insufficient access to health care that puts individuals at higher risk of infection; some Latinos live in multigenerational and more crowded households; and that Latinos “often show more physical affection”.
The last item raised objections among the Latino community as it seemed subjective and non-medical or scientific.
“To state that the high rate of infection is linked to physical affection is a serious failure to acknowledge and address the significant link between COVID-19 infection and the historical disadvantages that have plagued Latinos in this county, including lack of access to healthcare and affordable housing,” Nancy Maldonado, CEO of The Chicano Federation of San Diego County said in a statement. “Analysis by researchers at UC San Diego has revealed that the high rate of infection can be linked to social and economic disparities and a system that has set up Latinos to be at the forefront of exposure and higher risk.”
The Chicano Federation, established in 1969, is a social services organization that provides a variety of comprehensive, neighborhood-based services to a large and diverse population. throughout San Diego County.
“We reject Dr. Wooten’s simplistic explanation of a pandemic that is destroying the lives of Latinos in San Diego and urge our Public Health Officer to instead act on available data to come up with a systemic and systematic solution to this national health crisis,” Maldonado added.
The County now has 480 disease investigators and contact tracers contacting people who tested positive for COVID-19 to more accurately determine how and where the person may have become infected, and also tracing their close contacts so that they can all place themselves in isolation and self-quarantine to prevent the spread of the virus.
“When an investigator and contact tracer calls you, it is important that you answer because immediate action is needed,” Dr. Wooten said. “What you say is kept confidential and we will not question your address,” she added.
(Pictured: Ashley Nell Tipton, designer of face masks. Special thanks to Cathy Kaczmarcyzk/NBC for her photo)