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How The Coronavirus Crisis Is Impacting The Latino Community


In Oregon, Iowa, Florida and Washington state, the coronavirus infection rates among Latinos are outpacing that of the overall population. Here in Washington, D.C., the numbers are particularly striking. The Latino infection rate is nearly seven times higher than the rate among whites. Catalina Sol is the executive director of La Clinica del Pueblo, a community health center here in the district, and she joins us now. Welcome to the program.

CATALINA SOL: Thank you for inviting us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your clinic is located at the epicenter of the coronavirus here in D.C., Columbia Heights, which is a largely Hispanic neighborhood. And it is No. 1 for infection rates of any other neighborhood in D.C. What are you seeing and hearing from members of the community there?

SOL: In our region, we've been waiting for this moment where the data would show what we're seeing on the ground, which is that our Latino immigrant community is more highly at risk for COVID due to being a part of the essential workforce that's keeping food on our tables and the essential services going in many of our facilities and areas of the workplace and also that we are a community that still has to go to restaurants, laundromats and take public transportation to be able to go to work and meet the needs of our families. So we're more highly exposed. And the absence of a larger social and health safety net provide the conditions for an explosion of the epidemic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you tell me what you are seeing on the ground? Can you tell me the story of one person or one family that goes to your clinic?

SOL: We have patients that have continued to come to our doors for services because they don't have access to technology that really would allow them to have telehealth visits. We have many patients who experience violence in their homes and who we continue to provide services to in terms of their support groups. But being at home is not safe for everyone. I look at some of our staff and our patients who face very difficult choices every day in terms of continuing to expose themselves to be the housekeepers and the nannies and the restaurant workers. We had one patient who was told by her employer that she couldn't return to work unless she had a negative COVID test and we have patients whose high-risk conditions and their age put them at greater risk.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: People in the Latino community are afraid to ask for help. Some are dying at home in parts of the country. What is at the heart of that fear?

SOL: Right before the epidemic really became, I think, widely accepted by our system, we had just heard that the public charge rule was going to go into effect.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The public charge rule, which says that you can be denied permanent residency if you actually go out and seek benefits such as health care.

SOL: Exactly. The message immediately with COVID became, oh, but don't worry about seeking emergency hospitalization or testing for COVID because we do care about that because you might be a vector of transmission for the rest of us. So this actually very hostile message for our community has, I think, played a role in the delay in seeking out services and testing. Here, locally, the first person I believe that died who refused to get into an ambulance was an immigrant. And we do have patients that fear what will happen if they show up into hospitals or if they show up to seek services in terms of their immigration status. It's a very real fear.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As you mentioned, the story of COVID-19 is, in many ways, a story about inequality and people of color. It is a fact that access to health care has always been a struggle for minorities in this country. What needs to be done to keep more people from dying?

SOL: We know that immigration status is one of the key factors that has kept Latino immigrants and immigrants around the country away from good-quality health care - themselves and their families. But we also see that the social determinants of health - housing, food, just employment, benefits - those all are playing a very important role in how our community is experiencing COVID. The first week that we had the stay-at-home orders, many clients lost their jobs immediately because they work in the hospitality industry or in the trades. And, frankly, many were much more concerned about their income and the income of their families that depend on them in their countries of origin than of the infection itself. We can't stop being essential when the epidemic ends. We are essential. We are the essential workforce. We are essential to this country. And we deserve to be fully a part of society in terms of the benefits that we extend to everyone and to cease to be excluded.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Catalina Sol, executive director of La Clinica del Pueblo. Thank you very much for speaking with us.

SOL: Thank you for inviting us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.