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New data reveals Latinos hit harder than whites by coronavirus in Sonoma County

Latino residents in Sonoma County are 4½ times more likely than white residents to contract the coronavirus, a finding that mirrors troubling state and national statistics that shows Latinos and other minorities are being disproportionately ravaged by the disease.

According to county public health data released Tuesday, 59% of people who have tested positive for the disease caused by the virus have identified as Latino or Hispanic, though they represent just over 27% of the population.

White residents make up nearly 65% of the population but only 33% of COVID-19 cases, the data shows.

Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said the health department has just begun to investigate reasons why local Latinos are disproportionately contracting the virus. The county is setting up two testing sites this weekend to boost its detection of the virus within Latino communities.

They aim to test 250 ?people over the weekend, she said.

“We’re going to look into it and analyze the data and go and find the answers to those questions,” Mase said.

The finding reflects a national trend showing the new virus is disproportionately impacting minorities, both in terms of the number of confirmed cases and deaths, said Dr. Toni Ramirez, a Santa Rosa family doctor.

Ramirez, who co-founded the local health care advocacy group Health Professionals for Equality and Community Empowerment, called HPEACE, said she and other medical providers are finding “clusters” of COVID-19 cases among large households where multiple Latino families reside because of the high cost of housing.

“We have multiple families in one house sharing one bathroom, one kitchen, and that makes it that much more likely for others in the household to get infected,” she said. “This pandemic is really just unveiling the systemic social and economic inequities in the country and in Sonoma County.”

Latinos make up just under 40% of the population in California but they represent about half of all cases of the coronavirus and nearly 78% of cases among children 17 and younger, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Latino residents between 35 and 49 years old represent a startling 71.5% of deaths for that age bracket, although overall for all ages they are just 35.8% of deaths statewide.

Tuesday, the county reported 21 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 333.

Of those, 145 are Latino or Hispanic, 82 are white, 13 are Asian or Pacific Islander, seven are designated as other (non-Hispanic) and 86 people declined to provide race or ethnicity information.

The share of confirmed cases for Asian and Pacific Islander residents is the same as the group’s share of the overall population, about 5%.

The demographic data, released by the county for the first time Tuesday, indicates Latinos are 4½ times more likely to contract the virus than white residents. That likelihood is calculated based on the case rates per 100,000 people, which are about 107 for Latinos and 23 for whites.

County health department spokesman Rohish Lal said epidemiologists expect about 25% of people surveyed to decline to provide their race or ethnicity. Lal said the lack of information on race or ethnicity for 86 people with COVID-19 could mean the actual proportion of Latinos with the illness is different, but the health department expects the disparity would not disappear and could be more significant.

Pedro Toledo, chief administrative officer of the Petaluma Health Center, said he’s not surprised by the new statistics, based on what health center staff are encountering at the county’s alternate care site located at Sonoma State University. The health center is providing medical care at the site.

Toledo said all the patients at the site who have tested positive for COVID-19 are Latino. He said the patients at the alternate care site are unable to isolate in their homes or they live with someone who is considered vulnerable to the disease.

“Lower-income and essential workers are more likely to live in apartments with multiple families,” Toledo said. “And many health care workers are Latino … the deaths we’ve had so far are elderly, but in terms of positive cases, it’s Latinos and health care workers.”

Mara Ventura, executive director North Bay Jobs with Justice, a labor rights coalition, said Latino residents are much more likely to be working in low-wage jobs with less access to medical care, or in jobs that don’t have strong workplace health and safety regulations.

This includes domestic workers, day laborers and low-wage construction workers, she said. In many cases, she added, these workers are living in cramped living conditions with multiple families, where the virus can easily spread.

“We saw this in Latino families that were impacted by the 2017 fires,” she said. “One house burned down, but there were multiple Latino families living there. … It just takes one person who’s working and they contract COVID-19.”

Among all coronavirus cases, 151 were active and 168 people have recovered. Four people have died.

Mase said she’s aware of instances where large multigenerational families living together have contracted the virus, which “may be driving the numbers.”

“That’s one of the analyses we’re doing,” Mase said.

Mase said she is not aware of major outbreaks within certain industries or workplaces, although public health workers are aware of some clusters at specific worksites. She declined to say what industries were affected.

She said the county is also creating a task force to reach out to Latino communities to provide information about testing and other public health resources.

Juan Hernandez, executive director of Sonoma Valley nonprofit La Luz Center, said his organization has worked hard to help Latinos stay abreast of changing public health orders that have shut down schools and workplaces. The nonprofit has two clients who have contracted the virus and it supplied them with additional food, diapers and other essentials.

He was not surprised to hear that Latinos are disproportionately contracting the virus because of the health, economic and educational disparities already putting Spanish-speaking and immigrant communities at a disadvantage.

“The 59% highlights the disparity we know exists,” Hernandez said. “The question is what are we going to do about this disparity as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic?”

You can reach Staff Writers Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza @pressdemocrat.com and Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com.

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