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Nearly all of Sonoma County youths who contract coronavirus are Latino, data shows

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Of all the Sonoma County youth under 18 who have tested positive for coronavirus, a staggering 95% are Latino, a statistic that is again raising concerns over how the virus is disproportionately impacting local Latinos.

According to data from the county public health division, as of May 19, Latino youth were 54 of the 57 confirmed COVID-19 cases under 18.

“It’s a very sad finding,” said Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase, who is leading the local campaign against the spread of the virus. “And it’s something that should be addressed immediately.”

Though Latino children comprise all but three of the confirmed youth COVID-19 cases, Latinos under 18 are only 32% of that age group locally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey.

Last week, county health officials revealed that local COVID-19 cases were 4½ times more prevalent among Latinos than in the county’s white population. Mase said that as of Thursday, Latinos accounted for 64% of confirmed cases. In contrast, Latinos are about 27.2% of the county’s population.

Mase said the ethnic disparities being identified among the county’s COVID-19 cases are a serious concern and steps are being taken to do more outreach and testing into the Latino community.

She said many of the cases involving Latinos are occurring in “clusters” of large households, where those who have come in contact with confirmed cases are being tested.

“That’s what’s driving the numbers, especially in the last three or four weeks,” Mase said. “The fact that people live closely together and there’s more crowding in the households means there’s probably more transmission in those households.”

The news comes as Mase prepares to open more of the county with a new public health order expected Friday. Earlier this week, Mase submitted a request to state officials that would allow the county to move further into Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening plan through a process called regional variance.

Mase said she was confident the state would approve much of what’s identified in the variance request, and that she has had back-and-forth communication with state health officials who are considering it.

She said the state’s only feedback has been over “wording issues, clarifying our containment plan, our surveillance plan, things like that.”

If approved by state officials, the new order will permit outdoor dining and summer day camps, as well as drive-thru religious and ceremonial services such as graduation ceremonies. It could also allow residents to attend drive-in movies and participate in curbside pickups from local libraries.

On Thursday, Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Steve Herrington sent an email to county superintendents alerting them that Newsom gave the green light for schools and districts to host drive-thru graduation ceremonies.

A number of Sonoma County high schools, including Healdsburg, Analy, Rancho Cotate, Cardinal Newman, El Molino and Maria Carrillo, have been working on various versions of drive-thru events in the coming weeks with the hope that the state prohibition would be lifted.

County-issued safety mandates remain a part of any drive-thru ceremony, according to Herrington. All events must include coordination with law enforcement to help with vehicle control and the registration of all participants in cars for infection tracing purposes. Diplomas and cases must be placed on a table by staff wearing gloves, and cars should not be made to wait in any holding area more than 30 minutes.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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

Those who are older than 65 and not immediate family members should be restricted, according to the directive, and those with pre-existing conditions should not be in the car.

With the Memorial Day Weekend approaching, Mase said she hoped local residents would continue to be vigilant and practice social distancing as the county loosens restrictions.

Mase has said she would keep a close eye on the rate of new cases cropping up with every new activity allowed.

“We’ll see how it goes this Memorial Day weekend goes,” she said. “I wish for everybody to be very safe during this time.”

The county reported 11 new coronavirus cases Thursday, bringing the total up to 444. Four people have died, 207 people have recovered and 233 cases remain active. The county has conducted 18,773 tests, 98% of which were negative. Most people who tested positive for the virus — 91% — were never hospitalized.

Former Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Mary Maddux-Gonzalez said she was concerned over the recent local COVID-19 findings involving Latinos. Maddux-Gonzelez is now a public health consultant who recently returned to Sonoma County to assist local health officials in the campaign against COVID-19.

She said higher rates of COVID-19 among Latinos and other minorities across the country can be tied to low-wage jobs where proper social distancing is not possible, as well as living in cramped households where people are unable to separate themselves from their other family members.

Mase agreed, adding that “disparities exist and they’re based on inequities.”

“The disparities are about people’s inability to have the same standard of living as others,” she said. “And it should be addressed immediately.”

Rohish Lal, a spokesman for the county health services, said the data regarding children was presented Thursday to a task force of Latino health care providers and leaders that was convened last week to address these COVID-19 disparities.

The group is trying to help the county come up with ways to mitigate the impact of the virus on the Latino community, he said. Lal said the county is ramping up testing in the Latino community, and last week conducted such testing in Petaluma and Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood.

Testing targeting Latino residents is planned for this Saturday in Sonoma Valley Health Center, he said.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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