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The Coronavirus's Outsized Impact On California's Latino Communities


We want to turn back now to the other major story we've been following the - coronavirus pandemic. It's still spreading in many parts of the world. And in this country, it's become clear that the virus is affecting some people and communities more than others. Today, we want to focus on the Latinx community. In California, for instance, the state Department of Public Health says Latinos make up 55% of the state's confirmed COVID-19 cases despite the fact that Latinos are just 39% of the population. That trend is even more stark in San Francisco, where health officials say Latinos make up half the city's cases but only 15% of the population.

Here to tell us more is Christian Arana. He is the policy director of the Latino Community Foundation in San Francisco. Mr. Arana, thanks so much for talking with us today.

CHRISTIAN ARANA: Thank you so much for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: So you worked with a number of different community-based organizations all over the state of California. What are you hearing about how this spike in cases is being felt on the ground?

ARANA: Yeah, so that's a really great question. I think right now, the situation in California for Latinos is dire. You mentioned San Francisco, about how half of the cases in the county are Latino. When you go to other places across the state, like Imperial County down the California-Mexico border, over 95% of the deaths in that particular county are Latino. One of the organizations that we support is called Comite Civico. It's led by a man named Luis Olmedo. He tells us that the situation is bleak there. The virus is spreading so fast that they're running out of time to help out people. Just the other day, it was reported that an average of 17 people a day have to be airlifted out of the county because there's no more room in the hospitals. So they're having to come to places like Los Angeles, like San Francisco, who have more hospital capacity. But this is a bleak picture for the Latino community right now across the state.

MARTIN: And, of course, you know I'm going to ask - why do you think that is? Like, what are some of the factors that's contributing to the number of cases overall and also the disproportionate impact?

ARANA: Sure, yeah. So I think, you know, just to put things in perspective, I mean, you mentioned the percentage rate for Latinos with COVID in California, you know. Overall, I mean, there are about 130,000 Latinos who have been infected by COVID-19 so far in the state of California, you know. To put things in perspective, there are more Latinos just in the state of California who have this virus than all the total cases in Canada, right? So that's just - it's just mind-blowing for a lot of people here in our state.

And to your question as why is this the case, well, to start off, we're the essential workers. Our community is overrepresented in low-wage work. We're the ones working in grocery stores. We're the warehouse workers. We're also the ones harvesting the country's food in places like Salinas and Fresno. So when we're forced to leave our homes, that automatically means that there's an increased probability that we're going to contract this virus.

And I think to add to this, Michel, Latinos entered this pandemic with one of the weakest social safety that's on record. Over half of the uninsured in the state of California are Latino. Because of our citizenship status, there were so many Latinos who did not receive a stimulus check from the CARES Act because they just didn't want to include undocumented immigrants. So you had a situation where if a Latino had the COVID-19 virus, they had to ask themselves - do I go out and spread this to others, or do I stay home and probably lose the opportunity to provide for myself, for my family?

And then the last point I'll make is that, look. The grand strategy so far around COVID-19 has been to test, to trace and to isolate. But how can Latinos self-isolate in one of the most expensive rental markets in the nation, right? You have so many cases across state where you have two to three families - Latino families - who are sharing a one-bedroom apartment, right? Because that's the only thing that they can afford. So this isn't the product of bad luck for the Latino community; this is actually the product of disinvestment and failed public policies that have not only jeopardized the health and safety of our community but for all communities as well.

MARTIN: But if you're saying that part of the story is housing conditions, is that people are living in housing where they can't readily self-isolate, is that an employer problem? Or is that a state and federal government responsibility?

ARANA: So - yeah. So it's a responsibility of everyone. So right now - and, actually, in San Francisco, a group of Latino leaders have actually come together to work, in particular, in the Mission District, which is the historically Latino neighborhood here in San Francisco. So not only have they been motivating the community to come up to get tested, but they're actually providing wraparound services, right? So if somebody does indeed test positive, they're actually working with that particular person to help them self-isolate, let's say in a motel room or a hotel room across the city. Or if not, they're actually paying them.

I know one particular supervisor. Supervisor Ronen is actually working towards actually paying people to actually self-isolate because what they don't want to happen is for them to say, well, I need to go out and continue working because, otherwise, I'm going to lose my ability to provide for myself and my family. So it has to be a combination of just cross collaboration partnerships across many different sectors to make sure that if people do, in fact, test positive that they either have someplace to go to self-isolate or that they just stay home, period.

MARTIN: Well, you've got a very - obviously, you know, you've got a really kind of upbeat demeanor, and, you know, you're explaining this in a very accessible way. And I appreciate that. But this has to be keeping you up at night. And I'm just wondering - what is the thing that you're worried about most?

ARANA: You know, I think the best way to describe it is just sharing the story with one of our community partners. There's an organization that we support called Nuestra Casa. It's called Our Home. Our dear friend - her name is Miriam Yupanqui. She's the executive director of that organization. And ever since this pandemic has hit, she's just seen an increased demand for her services. So many people come to her for her food pantry because they've lost their jobs. They just need help, right? You want to know where this organization and this community is located, Michel? It is literally across the street from the headquarters of Facebook.

And so for me, right now, you know, the way I think about it is California by itself is the fifth-largest economy in the world, you know. We're home to the world's greatest companies, entrepreneurs, the best medical centers, the top-notch universities. But for the Latino community right now, like, this is not the Golden State. This is a failed state. And every single day and every single night in every single Latino household, we're all just saying to ourselves, somebody help us, right?

And I think by investing in these grassroots Latino organizations, that's what gives me hope because I know they're providing help on the ground. But so much more of that needs to happen across the state and across this country because as the numbers show, this virus is spreading. And it's spreading fast within the Latino community. And if we seriously want to address this pandemic, all strategies have to run through our community because the numbers demonstrate why.

MARTIN: That's Christian Arana, policy director at the Latino Community Foundation in San Francisco. Christian Arana, thanks so much for talking with us today.

ARANA: Thank you so much, Michel. Appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "DAYS TO COME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.