‘Farmworkers can’t pick apples through Zoom.’ Experts explore why Latinos hit hard by COVID
The Latino population in Washington state is just 13 percent of the population, and this group of people accounts for more than 40 percent of COVID-19 cases. By contrast, white residents make up 68 percent of the population, but account for only 39 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Now, Latino doctors and community leaders are trying to understand why this is the case.
This week, doctors and community leaders from across the state shared what they’ve been seeing, during a webinar organized by the University of Washington’s Latino Center for Health on Wednesday.
Both a lack of clear information and misinformation were brought up as reasons contributing to the high number of COVID cases among Latinos. Ed Hamilton Rosales is the president of the Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens. He says early on in the pandemic, things were moving so fast, it was hard to get good information from the local health department in Clark County.
“I would call the Clark County health department almost daily and things would change so fast, they weren’t keeping up with it much less being able to put it out in the public so that we could have truthful information and correct information," Rosales said. "That leads to a path of misinformation that is not a trusted source anymore."
Among the other issues discussed was misinformation about cures and treatments shared on social media, poor translation of information from English to Spanish, as well as not enough translations into Latin American languages other than Spanish.
Maria Blancas does outreach for the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center. She says among the farmworker community there are many questions around testing she says some of the common concerns are:
Will they charge me for my testing?
What information are they going to require from me?
What are they going to do with the information that I provide to them?
Will they use it against me in the future?
Blancas says testing sites don’t stay open long enough for farmworkers to get to after their shifts.
"Farmworkers can't pick apples through Zoom," Blancas said. "During harvest time, workers are working till really late and many of these testing centers are open up until 2 or 3 p.m. and workers are working till 7, 8 p.m.”
Another factor believed to be contributing to the disparity is a misallocation of resources. Dr. Leo Morales, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington and co-director of the Latino Center for Health, pointed to a chart showing where most COVID testing was happening in the Seattle area in late July.
“So testing resources were being deployed primarily in North Seattle. And we see that the incidence of disease in that same timeframe was in South Seattle where we find the Latino community,” Morales said.