September has always been the month for annual celebrations of Hispanic heritages. Families celebrate at the dinner table with food representing their cultures, and cultural centers and family halls are filled with people rejoicing the countries of their origin. This year, the celebration of music, food, dancing, and Latinidad have been disrupted by the shift from in person meet-and-greets to chatroom meetups on Zoom. Celebration of our Hispanic American citizens have taken a back seat to preparation for and fear of COVID-19.
This pandemic is one of the most ominous Grim Reapers to hit the United States. Quarantine is now the name of the game and people’s mantra has become “6 feet apart” and “masks are required to enter this establishment.” Along with significantly impacting all our lives, it has also compounded already existing racial disparities impacting the African American and Latinx communities as well as adversely impacting women.
I. Hispanics are Disproportionately Affected
The Latinx population represents 18% of the US population but is over-represented in COVID cases. The CDC stated in a June 2020 source that in states like Pennsylvania, where Hispanics make up only 7.6% of the population, they make up 30% of deaths caused by the virus. There are multiple systemic reasons for this disparity.
First, Hispanic-Americans make up most of the essential work force in jobs that require personal contact, such as cleaning crews, servers, hotel workers. Given the nature of these jobs, they’re less likely to have opportunities to do their work at a distance. Over representation in these jobs has put many Hispanics at increased risk of infection.
Second, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that workers without paid sick leave might be more likely to continue to work even when they are sick, which could increase their exposure to other workers who may have COVID-19. The report says that Hispanic workers have lower rates of access to paid leave than white non-Hispanic workers. Additionally, many Hispanics who live in multigenerational households are at risk of exposure to the virus. The CDC states that with 25 percent of Hispanics living in close quarters in multi-generational households, it is hard to take precautions and protect older family members. Isolation of infected Hispanics also becomes challenging.
And while preexisting health conditions such as heart conditions and diabetes might not increase chances of contracting COVID, they certainly amplify the intensity. The Latinx community, is often at higher risk for hypertension and diabetes. According to the CDC, in New York 54% of Hispanics died from hypertension and 36% died from diabetes, both worsened by COVID-19, making for a very dangerous health cocktail. The impact of COVID on the Latinx community is exacerbated by the fact that they have lower rates of health care insurance than others.
Given their preponderance in front line hourly jobs, it is not surprising that the Latinx population is disproportionately impacted by job and income loss as the economy struggles to recover. According to Pew Research Center, “some 61% of Hispanic Americans and 44% of black Americans said in April that they or someone in their household had experienced a job or wage loss due to the coronavirus outbreak, compared with 38% of white adults.” And approximately, 20% of Hispanics have been laid off since the pandemic (that’s twice the percent of White Americans that have been laid off). This coupled with the fact that minority families have slim reserves to help cover emergencies is plunging them into poverty with limited access to food and health care.
Many Hispanics and other minorities use public transport, increasing the risk of exposure. And with the potential tsunami of cuts in public transport, they would now be at risk of not being able to get to their jobs, essential for the economy and for their livelihood.
The lack of childcare presents another challenge. The Latinx population is further disadvantaged with children home from school and a lack of choice about staying away from work, this creates exposure for their children. While most children who catch the coronavirus have either no symptoms or mild ones, they are still at risk of developing "severe" symptoms requiring admission to an intensive care unit. Hispanic and Black children in particular were much more likely to require hospitalization for COVID-19, with Hispanic children about eight times as likely as white children to be hospitalized, while Black children were five times as likely.
The Digital Divide
The closing of schools and the reliance on remote learning is exposing the impact of the deep digital divide on student achievement. The Latinx population has been lagging behind most other groups in terms of gaining reliable internet access and having broadband at home. Access to internet and digital skills are a requirement during the pandemic. Those students who do not have broadband service at home, struggle to access classes and to complete assignments that students from technologically advanced households can easily do. For students who must type papers and do research projects, a smartphone is simply not enough. The disadvantages of lack of access to on-line learning during COVID will have a lasting impact on the achievement of children of color including Latinx children.
The lack of access to reliable internet is also affecting the Latinx population’s access to health care as physicians rely on telemedicine.
II. COVID-19 is Taxing the Latinx Population’s Emotional and Mental Health
Along with the physical and challenges, COVID-19 has also worsened the mental health and emotional well-being of the Hispanic community
Stereotyping. Anecdotal reports suggest that Hispanics who work a preponderance of front-line jobs, such as grocery stores, hospital, hotels and restaurants, are at the receiving end of stereotypes with comments insinuating that they are carriers of the virus. This combined with the pressures of maintaining jobs, most of which do not provide sick time, take a toll on the wellbeing of the Latinx population.
Mental Health Challenges: Stress over employment, lack of insurance, and lack of information has created a “perfect storm” for Latinx communities resulting in mental health issues. Additionally, roughly 44% of Hispanics worry that they cannot make payments on their cellphone and other monthly bills further isolating them. A cultural stigma around mental health combined with lack of access to health care and health care disparities in providing mental health care to the Latinx population further complicate an already grim situation. This perfect storm is resulting in a mental health crisis in Latinx communities according to Kristyn Martin.
And for those who don’t have the virus, the fear of having to go to work, being exposed and getting it looms large. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that Hispanics (43 percent) are far more likely than whites (18 percent) to be concerned about getting COVID-19 and needing to be hospitalized.
All these factors weigh heavily on the Latinx community making them vulnerable to mental health challenges.
III. What can You Do?
Zadie Smith in her new book of essays, Intimations, makes a powerful statement. Health care disparities in the US are often the result of, “wrong place, wrong time. Wrong skin color. Wrong side of the tracks. Wrong zip code, wrong beliefs, wrong city. Wrong position of hands when asked to exit the vehicle. Wrong health insurance – or none.”
As we remember and appreciate the contributions of our Latinx communities, we can also stay vigilant about the toll COVID-19 is taking on the community. The work they do is vital and un-relenting and they risk their lives to support us.