Ask Dr. Halverson: Why Latinx are at higher risk of COVID-19 infection, complications

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By Dr. Jim Halverson
Eighteen percent of  U.S. residents are Latinx, (a gender-neutral term for Latinos and Latinas). Hispanic is also a commonly used term to describe a person of Latin American descent. Yet, they account for 33% of the U.S. COVID-19 cases. Similarly, 44% of Ventura County residents are Latinx, but account for just over 70% of the cases. What is driving this inequity and what can be done to fix it?
In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, the American Medical Association has just released a new report emphasizing the starkly disproportionate Latinx COVID-19 cases and fatalities. This report emphasizes concerns that a lack of consistent data reporting underestimates the pandemic’s magnitude on the Latinx community and illustrates how the pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequities.
The report, titled “Latinx COVID-19 Health Inequities: Insights for the Health Care Field,” points out that the effects of COVID-19 on this population have not been widely addressed and are largely invisible in national discussions. This leaves the Latinx population essentially inconsequential in pandemic prevention and recovery planning.
What’s driving the inequities?
The report identifies the existing drivers behind the Latinx community’s vulnerability to the pandemic. Structural drivers include:
— Anti-immigration policies and rhetoric.
— Restrictive health care insurance access.
— Increased vulnerability due to the overrepresentation of Latinx in low-wage labor markets.
— Lack of national attention on the impact of COVID-19 on Latinx communities.
Social determinants of health drivers include:
— Lack of updated accurate and culturally appropriate Spanish -language COVID-19 resources.
— Limited COVID-19 testing in Latinx communities.
— Increased police and immigration enforcement in Latinx communities causing people to not seek appropriate health care.
— Limited availability of Latinx physicians to provide culturally responsive care and education.
The report cites a Pew Charitable Trust study that found that 38% of Latinx are Spanish-only speakers, with 60% of foreign-born Latinx speaking only Spanish. Low English literacy has created additional layers of confusion in a rapidly changing information landscape. 
Starting points to address these problems
Recommended strategies for improvement include:
— Coordinating outreach efforts to the Latinx population to increase access to culturally appropriate public education campaigns and services
— Creating consistent culturally appropriate public health campaigns and informational materials that are inclusive of the Latinx community.
— Using trusted outlets and community members to get out information.
— Equipping physicians with culturally responsive resources.
— Advocating for broader societal change to advance health equity for the Latinx community as well as all marginalized groups.
— Public education messages, available in Spanish, should specifically address what symptoms to pay attention to, where people can get testing, and reassurance to the immigration community that it is safe to access COVID-19 services 
The report also includes a call to seize this moment of crisis to promote health equity for all Americans.
What we can do
Be aware of the problem. Reach out to your Latinx friends, neighbors, co-workers, employees and community members to advise them of the importance of self-care during this pandemic. Advocate for appropriate Spanish information to be shared by your health care community and trusted information sources. Tell them to visit as a resource to share up-to-date COVID information and printable resources from Ventura County in Spanish. The Centers for Disease Control also has excellent information in Spanish. Be supportive for those Latinx you know who are struggling. 
This is a worldwide pandemic affecting every one of us. Your efforts to keep your family, friends, neighbors and our community members safe are vital to the health of our community and the Ojai Valley.
Stay committed, stay properly informed, stay hopeful, stay safe and stay well.


— Dr. Jim Halverson, a longtime Ojai physician, writes a weekly column on COVID-19 for the Ojai Valley News.

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