Coronavirus toll still heavy among Latinos, other minorities

As Sonoma County and other parts of the state are eager to move to an “endemic” stage, county data and stories from social service workers show that COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect Latinos and other minorities.|

For more stories on the anniversary of the pandemic, go here.

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To track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world, go here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Mayra Arreguin wants to be very clear: For many of the low-income, immigrant and Spanish-speaking families in northern Sonoma County, the coronavirus pandemic is far from over.

She sees daily examples of the virus’s continued and residual effects on this segment of the population as an outreach advocate for the Cloverdale-based social service nonprofit La Familia Sana.

Because of her job, she has become embedded in the community through door-to-door canvasses, food drives and conversations at a local church popular among the area’s Latino families.

Her goal? Earning the trust of local residents and linking them to resources offered by La Familia Sana and other community organizations once she learns about the issues fraying their quality of life.

The pandemic continues to be at the core of many of their problems, Arreguin said. As a result, she refers families who need help paying for rent, utility bills and food to a local program that provides emergency financial assistance.

The recent omicron-fueled winter surge set back many people who were without paid sick leave or insurance, and who were already struggling to make ends meet, she added.

Access to rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests and food are other common needs, Arreguin said.

A coronavirus vaccination clinic hosted by La Familia Sana earlier this month garnered about 80 attendees, including a handful of residents who were getting the shot for the first time.

“There are people who still don’t believe … who still don’t want to get vaccinated,” Arreguin said. “But we’ve had good results.”

As Sonoma County and other parts of the state are eager to move to an “endemic” stage, county data and stories from workers like Arreguin show that COVID-19 continues to cast disproportionate harm on Latinos and other minorities.

County data shows Latinos hit hard by virus

Among specific ethnic and racial groups, Latinos accounted for 44% of all COVID-19 infections, 39% of all related hospitalizations and 32% of related deaths reported to the county since early January amid the omicron surge.

The group — which at 49% has the lowest booster rate among the county’s ethnic and racial communities — makes up only 27% of the county’s population, a figure drawn by the county from the 2020 census.

Black, American Indian and Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander residents were also slightly overrepresented in most, if not each, of the infection, hospitalization and death metrics shown in county COVID-19 data between early January and early March.

The inordinate damage COVID-19 has caused in communities of color is not new, but rather a through line during the pandemic, the county data also shows.

Latinos, for example, accounted for half the COVID-19 cases in Sonoma County when a specific race or ethnicity was known.

Over the past two years, they also made up nearly a third of COVID-19-related deaths and 37% of those hospitalizations in Sonoma County when compared to other demographic groups.

Learning from the pandemic, preparing for the future

Black, American Indian and Native American, and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander residents were also slightly overrepresented in the county’s two-year COVID-19 infection total.

These communities, which make up 1.3%, 0.7% and 0.4% of Sonoma County’s population, respectively, also had marginally higher COVID-19 deaths in Sonoma County, as did Asian residents.

Jade Weymouth, the executive director of the nonprofit social service agency La Familia Sana, said those trends underscore the systemic flaws in our society that made Latinos and other people of color more susceptible to the coronavirus in the first place.

Those inequities, such as lack of access to affordable health care, affordable housing prices and culturally sensitive information in their own language, for example, persist in Sonoma County as community organizations like hers have raced to meet the immediate needs of local residents between one surge and another.

“People were teetering on this really thin line and now, it’s like COVID just pushes it over the edge for the families that we’re working with,” Weymouth said. “The future isn’t COVID. The future is being prepared for the next COVID-like thing or disaster. And making sure our community has knowledge, understanding and safe spaces.”

‘We are a resilient community’

Javi Cabrera-Rosales, the project director of the CURA Project — short for COVID-19 Urgent Response and Aid — said the omicron wave showed just how vulnerable some of Sonoma County’s most marginalized communities are.

The project, which provides pandemic assistance to Latino, Indigenous and low-income communities, is overseen by the Napa-based nonprofit On the Move. The nonprofit was granted a $1.4 million contract in September 2020 to carry out the pandemic-related assistance in Sonoma County.

At the start of the surge, the CURA Project received about 100 calls a day for three weeks from residents seeking assistance, Cabrera-Rosales said. Those calls ranged from people in need of food to families close to losing the roof over their heads.

The organization had doled out nearly $1 million in financial aid by the end of January. Two months later, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors awarded the group an additional $3.8 million to continue its work, he said.

“We are a resilient community, yet consistently, when there are disasters in our community, the hardest hit are constantly the ones who have less access to the systems we have in place,” Cabrera-Rosales said. “If every parent, guardian and caregiver is sick, how then does money flow into the household when even missing a day of work greatly impacts the sustainability of a household?”

Investing in uplifting residents

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors hopes to address the economic and public health shortcomings that led to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on specific Sonoma County groups with the allocation of $34 million to community resilience programs, Board Chairman James Gore said.

Applications for that funding opened in late February and run until April 7.

The money was given to the county by way of the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal COVID-19 stimulus package also known as ARPA. Proposals that target priority needs, such as child care, mental health services, and assistance to workers, will be prioritized.

So will those that specifically help essential workers, including farmworkers, high school students who graduated during distanced learning, and racial and ethnic groups with high rates of COVID-19 cases per capita, among others.

“We have to make sure that we nurture that ecosystem to make sure the voice of the community is loud and acted upon,” Gore said. “The majority of the ARPA funds is to empower this systems change.”

Cabrera-Rosales said the funds were an opportunity for county leaders to “invest more in people and projects that uplift and create platforms of sustainability.”

He said the most significant changes have happened at the community level, with organizations creating stronger partnerships in order to collectively better serve the community amid the pandemic.

“Coming together to meet some of the basic needs of some of the community members has been incredible to see,” Cabrera-Rosales said. “There’s been a bonding together.”

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

For more stories on the anniversary of the pandemic, go here.

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To track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world, go here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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