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Reducing COVID-19 cases among Sonoma County Latinos key to reopening

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Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said Friday the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on local Latinos must be addressed or the county will continue fall short of state coronavirus benchmarks for reopening businesses and other activities.

Under new state rules announced this week, counties across the state must prove they are reducing virus spread in disadvantaged neighborhoods, not just countywide, Mase noted Friday during a press briefing.

“Many things about the coronavirus are unclear, but one thing is certain: COVID-19 causes disproportionate harm to communities of color,” said Mase. “The whole point is to reduce disease transmission everywhere in the county.”

The new health equity metric, unveiled by the state on Tuesday, is the latest measure being used to gauge counties’ success at controlling virus spread. The other two metrics are countywide measures: the number of daily cases per 100,000 people and test positivity, the share of all tests where virus is detected.

Mase said the new metric appropriately focuses on economically disadvantaged communities because that is where a large share of the virus is being spread. In Sonoma County, these are predominantly Latino communities with large numbers of essential workers.

During the briefing, Mase said the vast majority of Sonoma County’s COVID-19 cases are being detected in Santa Rosa. Virus rates have remained steady or are decreasing in cities like Cotati, Sonoma, Windsor, Rohnert Park and Sebastopol.

The ZIP codes that have been impacted the most are 95401, 95403 and 95407, she said. But 95409, in east Santa Rosa, is also seeing a slight upward trend. Within several Santa Rosa ZIP codes, Latinos comprise the largest share of cases, she said.

In the 95407 ZIP code, which covers southwest Santa Rosa, Latinos account for more than 1,000 coronavirus cases. That means Latinos in this one ZIP code make up one-eighth of the county’s 8,155 COVID-19 cases since the virus was first detected in the county March 2.

Mase said these types of findings are driving local public health efforts to target communities disproportionately affected by the virus. Public health staff continue to do targeted pop-up testing, outreach and messaging, and bilingual contact tracing in these communities, she said.

The public health division is also partnering with local groups to do large-scale outreach and education campaigns focused on essential workers, such as farmworkers, laborers and domestic workers.

But getting at the root causes of COVID-19 disparities — racial and socio-economic inequality — will require broader participation in the community, Mase said.

She noted that counties like Santa Cruz and Solano have rental assistance programs for low-income residents while San Francisco, Alameda and San Diego counties have offered some residents stipends so they can isolate or quarantine.

The lack of sick leave among low-income residents who cannot afford to stay home when sick is likely impacting COVID-19 case rates, she said.

“A pandemic disaster, things like COVID, simply lay bare the disparities that already exist,” Mase said. “Unless we address the underlying issues, we won’t be able to offer a sustainable solution for people.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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