Jeffco Hispanics hit harder by COVID-19

Making up 15.5% of Jeffco's population — the ethnic group accounts for 21.2% of cases

Joseph Rios
jrios@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/5/20

During the week of April 20, 48-year-old Arvada resident Shannon Bonilla began to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19: shortness of breath when she talked, a cough and nonstop congestion. She didn’t think …

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Jeffco Hispanics hit harder by COVID-19

Making up 15.5% of Jeffco's population — the ethnic group accounts for 21.2% of cases

Posted

During the week of April 20, 48-year-old Arvada resident Shannon Bonilla began to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19: shortness of breath when she talked, a cough and nonstop congestion.

She didn’t think anything of her symptoms until her children expressed their concerns about her health, prompting her to call her doctor. On the morning of April 25, Bonilla was tested for the virus. The next day, her doctor called to confirm that she has tested positive.

“God, I started to cry,” said Bonilla. “I take care of my mom who is 70. My three-year-old nephew was here. My daughter lives with me, and her boyfriend was here. My cousin was here. Everyone was pretty much exposed, and right now, there is a ton of fear. I feel really guilty.”

“I’m stuck in my room, and I just have a lonely feeling. You start to think about what could happen if it were to get worse,” she added. “You’re only going to be alone, and I see things about people dying alone. People think this is fake, but it’s not. It’s really scary.”

Bonilla is one of 257 Hispanics in Jefferson County who has had COVID-19. Hispanics make up only 15.5% of the county’s population — but according to data from Jeffco Public Health, the ethnic group accounts for 21.2% of the 1,394 “closed cases” of COVID-19 in Jeffco as of May 4.

MORE: Jefferson County softening health order to 'safer-at-home' rules starting May 9

Closed cases mean that either a Jeffco Public Health case investigator has been able to contact the resident who had the virus and interview them, multiple attempts were made without contact, or cases were identified through long-term care outbreaks which do not require direct follow-up, according to Ashley Sever, a spokesperson for Jeffco Public Health.

Closed cases were used for this story rather than all cases as the health department is still investigating, or cases where ethnicity was not listed. There have been 1,518 total cases of COVID-19 in Jefferson County as of May 4.

There is also a slight disparity in percentage of population and percentage of cases among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in Jefferson County. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders make up 0.2% of Jefferson County’s population but account for 0.4% of the county’s COVID-19 cases.

State data also paints an image of disparity between the Hispanic population and percentage of Hispanic COVID-19 cases. Hispanics account for 28.1% of COVID-19 cases in Colorado. But 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data says Hispanics make up 21.7% of Colorado’s population.

Dr. Ramon Del Castillo, who served as chair of Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Chicana/o Studies Department for 12 years, pointed to preexisting conditions that have historically affected some Hispanic communities like high blood pressure and diabetes as reasons for why the ethnic group is seeing a high number of COVID-19 cases.

Data from Jeffco Public Health shows that between 20 to 30% of Hispanics in the county have high blood pressure while 7% of Hispanics age 18 years and older in the county suffer from diabetes — the highest of any ethnic group in Jefferson County.

Early findings suggest that elderly residents who suffer from high blood pressure have a greater risk of getting the virus, according to the American Heart Association. Residents who have high blood pressure, regardless of age, could experience severe complications from COVID-19, the American Heart Association says.

Residents who have diabetes are not more likely to get COVID-19 than the general population, according to the American Diabetes Association — but those who do have diabetes have a higher chance of experiencing serious complications from the virus.

“Preexisting conditions have been part of our history here in society. What the pandemic did was highlight what we have been infected with,” said Castillo. “There are a lot of things happening right now with the virus that are specific and more impactful to people of colored communities, and in particular, Latinos.”

Castillo pointed to food deserts as another reason for high COVID-19 cases in Hispanics while Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said at an April 13 news conference that diet could be relevant to the disparity between the percentage of population and percentage of virus cases in minorities.

Food deserts are areas where access to affordable and nutritious food is limited because of a lack of grocery stores in a suitable traveling distance.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that in all but very dense urban areas, the higher the percentage of minority population, the more likely the area is to be a food desert.

“That predisposes you to any virus that is present — the idea of your body not being able to absorb nutrients and all the things that are healthy to consider a good diet. In food deserts, there are a lot of places that people are not accustomed to eating fresh food and things that they ought to be eating,” said Castillo. “They eat what is there. That’s a function of poverty, and poverty leads to all these other issues.”

“Poor people in general have poor diets because they haven’t had opportunities to reach the American Dream, and therefore, that translates to racism and economics all coming together. They have a higher rate of the virus because of these destructive forces,” he added.

Providing a helping hand

Patty Grado said she knows several people who have serious health conditions and don’t get help because they have been rejected due to financial reasons or because they are undocumented immigrants.

“People who don’t have documents and have serious health cases are afraid to expose their case, because they don’t know what consequences that exposure will have on their private lives or health. They live in a constant state of stress because they don’t have a way to get resources or help for those severe illnesses,” she said.

Grado works as a navigator for Adelante Jeffco, a network of community members and organizations that includes Jeffco Public Health. The organization works to identify opportunities and strategies to make services for Latinos and Hispanics more effective and culturally relevant. Adelante Jeffco also plays a role in connecting Latino and Hispanic families to health services — particularly for those who don’t speak English.

Since April 9, Adelante Jeffco has received more than 400 calls from residents who are looking to be connected to organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Paulina Erices, co-coordinator for the organization.

“People are calling us because they trust us, and that is a huge factor in being successful,” she said.

Erices said there is more to serving Latino and Hispanic communities than just providing language interpreters. She said it is important for those who are providing services to understand the cultural aspects of the people they are serving.

Erices said that many Latinos may not have an informed way to make a decision on health. She noted that many people in the Latino community work full time, are paid hourly and are not getting benefits like health care.

“In terms of systems, there is a lot of oppression against people who may work low income jobs. The system itself has so many inequities,” said Erices. “There are historic gaps, even with information. The pandemic is really just elevating or helping to find the impact of (inequity).”

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