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Why COVID-19 Disproportionately Impacts Latino Communities

NOEL KING, HOST:

Right now we're seeing about 40,000 cases of COVID-19 every day in this country. Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday that could go up to 100,000 new cases a day. Here he is talking to Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTHONY FAUCI: I think it's important to tell you and the American public that I'm very concerned because it could get very bad.

KING: People of color are being hit the hardest. The CDC says Latinos are hospitalized from the virus at four times the rate of white Americans. Why is that? Daniel Lopez-Cevallo is a professor at Oregon State University, and he studies how health disparities affect Latino communities. Good morning, professor.

DANIEL LOPEZ-CEVALLO: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

KING: We're very glad to have you, especially - I know, it's quite early where you are. I want to ask you about a staggering statistic that we have seen reported in numerous places lately. Twenty-six percent of people who've died from COVID-19 in this country were Latino. Now, that's clearly disproportionate. What comes to the top of your mind when you try to explain why this is happening?

LOPEZ-CEVALLO: I think it's a mix of factors that come into play to these - show these disproportionate rates of both cases and deaths, as you mentioned. Certainly, the population as a group, Latinos are disproportionately represented in essential workforce in the U.S. and, certainly, have been - as a consequence - overexposed to the virus. But I think, too, a part of it is how very little social protections good portions and segments of our community have had, including...

KING: What do you mean by...

LOPEZ-CEVALLO: ...Health insurance.

KING: ...Social - OK. Go ahead, please.

LOPEZ-CEVALLO: So health insurance, for example - Latinos have, overall, much lower rates of health insurance. As you know, for a segment of the population, undocumented immigrant population for example, there are limitations set in place in not being able to access health insurance. And so that poses, I think, a barrier. And more broadly, I think a systematic erosion of trust in federal government and other social institutions is a consequence of what we have seen - anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric over the last few years.

KING: I want to ask you - I know that you have been in the field talking to people. And we've heard about mistrust in Black communities in the United States that has long, historical precedent. Talk to me about how mistrust in the government or towards the government is playing out when it comes to Latino communities and coronavirus at this time.

LOPEZ-CEVALLO: Very much - I believe very much it plays a role in that. Because of this discourse around Latinos, you know, the president from his very - when he announced his candidacy, painted an entire group of people in a very negative fashion. And so I think the rhetoric has created an environment of erosion of trust in the government and anything to do with that.

But it hasn't only been rhetoric. As you have reported in the past, you know, with family separation along the border, the restrictions around asylum-seekers and, most recently, what - through the passage of the CARES Act to support families during this crisis, the - a specific restriction in the law so that if any member of a U.S. household had an undocumented immigrant or didn't have Social Security, the $1,200 for adults or $500 for children wouldn't reach those families - and not just the individual, but the whole household.

KING: Does mistrust manifest itself as folks in this community not believing what the CDC, what the government says about how dangerous this virus is or how it's spreading? Does it make them less likely to want to go to a hospital? How exactly does it manifest?

LOPEZ-CEVALLO: I think it's more the latter. What I've seen is that through, you know, other channels - TV, radio - I think the message around the seriousness of the pandemic, I think the community has a good sense of that. I think the mistrust, it's just shown when accessing services or intending to access services - so, certainly, health insurance poses a barrier for that - but also the potential consequences of accessing those services may have, not just in the treatment but also in the potential ramifications that they may have for individuals and families in mixed-status households.

KING: I know that one thing you've been looking into is - we have heard that multigenerational housing is a problem, people of several generations living in smaller houses who will infect each other. And we've heard that this is one of the big reasons behind it. You've been looking into whether or not that's true, and you found something interesting. Tell us about that.

LOPEZ-CEVALLO: Well, I think when thinking about the multigenerational households, I think we have to tease out the benefits of multigenerational households and what - for example, the benefits of having grandparents supporting their kids through, you know, what has been a spring of remote learning, for example, you know, the support that parents can have when having to juggle full-time jobs with parenting, right? And that being...

KING: Interesting, yeah. There are both benefits but also drawbacks. And I'm so sorry, professor; we're out of time.

LOPEZ-CEVALLO: No worries.

KING: Daniel Lopez-Cevallo of Oregon State University. Thank you for joining us.

LOPEZ-CEVALLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.