TRENDS Podcast: COVID-19 Exacerbates Existing Inequities

The TRENDS podcast is a collaboration between the Community Foundation of Boulder County and KGNU. It dives deep into the community’s most pressing issues and explores the changes happening throughout Boulder County through the experiences of community members, especially those often rendered invisible by commercial media, to shed light on community challenges, solutions, and pathways forward for the county and the country.

Listen to the COVID-19 TRENDS podcast episode below:

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    TRENDS Podcast: COVID-19 Exacerbates Existing Inequities KGNU News

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The world is experiencing the global effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Data released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows it is having a disproportionate impact on people of color. The virus is shedding light on existing racial disparities, pointing directly to systemic societal and health inequities.

“By now, news reports have been exposing how black, brown and Native American communities have experienced higher mortality rates than other ethnic groups during the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. however, this should not come as a surprise to anyone.” — Lupita Montoya

“When African Americans and Latinos and people of color are dying, they are not receiving the right attention from the hospitals. And in fact, some communities are even afraid of going to the hospitals because of the cost of hospitalization in the United States.” — Gabriela Buitrion Vera

According to data from the state, Latinx people make up about 22% of Colorado’s population, but they are about 28% of its COVID-19 cases. While black people represent about 4% of the population, they make up about 7% of cases statewide.

In Boulder County, the disparity is even wider. Latinx people make up nearly 14% of the population, yet they account for about 24% of the county’s COVID-19 cases and nearly one-third of those hospitalized for the illness.

Sheila Davis is a physician by training and the health equity coordinator for Boulder County Public Health.

“African-Americans, Latinx communities and Native populations tend to suffer from health disparities, chronic health conditions like heart disease and cancer and diabetes, kidney disease, and we see that across most of the chronic conditions. So, now COVID-19 has arrived and we’re seeing explosions. We’re also seeing high infection rates in the Navajo Nation, and this is in part because of the underlying conditions of these communities of color: the heart disease, the lung disease, cancer, perhaps kidney disease. So, this storyline for COVID-19, I mean, it is ravaging so many facets of our society. But, I would have to say that the subtext is that COVID-19 is revealing deep fissures in our society, and some of these fissures are due to structural racism.”

COVID-19 Pasa La Voz Show en Español:

  • Haga Clic para escuchar a Elena, Aranda, Jorge De Santiago del Centro Amistad y a Leticia Abajo de WIC en el programa de Pasa La Voz dar guia y apoyo emocional durante la crisis de COVID-19
  • Haga Clic para ir al show Pasa La Voz escuchar voces comunitarias de aquellos afectados por el COVID-19 y de aquellos que trabajan para proporcionas servicios adecuados durante la crisis del coronavirus

Another fissure in society that is being revealed is the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Low-income communities who are unable to work under quarantine are finding it very difficult to buy food or pay the rent.

Edwin Jimenez is a Black Latino living in Boulder. He’s also experiencing homelessness, which puts him at a high risk of getting COVID-19. He says that, now more than ever, he is being discriminated against. He recounted an incident where he was speaking Spanish on a phone call while at a gas station in Boulder. He said the cashier told him to get out. Later, he was stopped and questioned by police. He says this is part of a pattern of discrimination that he experiences regularly, but it has become worse during the pandemic.

As a black, Latino experiencing homelessness, Edwin Jimenez feels discriminated against now more than ever due to the coronavirus.

“He got very upset and very mad and he kicked me out of the store and told me not to come back to the store. And just for that simple reason: because I asked him for hand sanitizer and then he called the police for no reason.”

Jimenez’s experience highlights how racism, poverty and homelessness intersect and are exacerbated by the current crisis. While the entire state was under a stay-at-home order for several weeks, not everyone had a home to stay in. Frequent hand washing is also out of reach for people living on the streets.

Resources:

Reports:

The spread of the coronavirus is pointing directly to systemic societal and health inequalities that some say could be the reason the disease is having a heavier impact on not just the homeless, but other minorities.

A new report by the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado provides data to better understand the COVID-19 crisis and how it is affecting the Latinx communities in Colorado.

Julia Roncoroni was a key collaborator in the report titled “COVID-19 Impact on Latinos and Immigrants” by the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado

Julia Roncoroni was a key collaborator in the report titled “COVID-19 Impact on Latinos and Immigrants.” She is also a professor in counseling psychology at Denver University. She says the report highlights the systemic barriers impacting the Latino community from a health inequity perspective.

“There are other, more systemic barriers or what we call social determinants of health that are impacting our Latino community, and therefore their experience with COVID-19. Some of these living conditions and environmental realities include occupation as essential workers, transportation, living in food deserts, multigenerational households where keeping distance from older family members or isolating those who were sick is nearly impossible. We also see that, Latinos are, and again, in particular immigrants, are overrepresented in jails and prisons and detention centers. They also work in spaces like the essential sectors where they have very limited health and physical support.”

The report also shows that Latinos are playing a key role in sustaining the U.S. economy through the pandemic and are over-represented as front line workers.

“This is especially true for undocumented [immigrants]. So we know, of course, that if you have increased exposure in these environments, then you’ll have increased infection rate. Only 16% of Latinos can work from home. And we’re seeing very recently the peer research center released a study where they showed that 66% of Latino adults report that they would not get paid if they needed to miss work for two or more weeks related to COVD-19 and about half of the respondents also certainly struggle to meet expenses during this period. And so we see a very high need, economic need, and this increased participation in these essential sectors.”

Black, Brown and Native American communities have experienced higher mortality rates than other ethnic groups during the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.; however, according to Lupita Montoya, a Research Associate at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil and Environmental and Architectural Engineering, this should not come as a surprise to anyone.

“These populations have experienced a combination of social and environmental stressors for a long time leading to negative health outcomes which make them more vulnerable to subsequent assaults like the coronavirus. We know that sustained stress due to things like poverty for example, makes people more susceptible to diseases.”

But Montoya says people most impacted by the virus aren’t always getting the right information and are being put at risk.

Dr. Lupita Montoya, a Research Associate at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil and Environmental and Architectural Engineering

“My concern is that many of the same people who are at highest risk are presently not being protected or even made properly aware of the risk. In addition, these people are often unable to stay home because they have to make a living and don’t have jobs. They can’t perform at home. Now, some of these people are also being labeled essential workers like those at meatpacking plants, so they don’t even seem to have a choice to stay home. It is amazing to me that we are putting the most vulnerable people in every respect out front in this pandemic.”

There are several initiatives happening locally to support immigrant families during this time. Laura Soto, a DACA recipient and community leader, is involved in a local grassroots-based effort designed to connect immigrants and particularly the undocumented community with the resources they need.

Laura Soto, DACA recipient and community leader

“This initiative has come from the grassroots project of Voces Unidas. This is a project that started last year in November to help undocumented students in our area as well as DACA students at a very crucial time when we realized that our immigrant population, specifically the youth that go to our school district, needed extra support not only in immigration matters, but also mental health and general support with school. When the COVID-19 epidemic hit our local communities, we were able to quickly organize the other leaders who many are Latino leaders in the community, plus allies who work directly with students, organized being a voice for these students and bringing to the attention of our community foundations as well as the philanthropy foundation, the needs that the immigrant community was quickly experiencing as a product of the crisis coming from COVID-19.”

Liliana Garcia is in a mixed-status family. She lives with her husband and her three American citizen children. She used to clean from 5 to 7 houses a week and her husband used to work in two restaurants. Now they are unemployed and are relying on food banks to get by. They have a daughter who is studying to be a nurse, who explains to them what precautions they need to take to keep themselves healthy. Garcia is not ashamed to say she does not have documents and she is only speaking up because she wants to help others that are in the same situation. The Garcia family was expecting to receive support from the federal government at least for the 3 kids, but they did not get it.

Many immigrant families are like the Garcia family and are mixed-status, meaning some members may be eligible for federal assistance, and others not. DACA recipients, who were brought here as children and who have, for now, federal protection under the Obama-era program, are eligible for some federal assistance but have been excluded from other stimulus packages.

Last month the Education Department announced that DACA students aren’t eligible for emergency aid to help students who have experienced disruptions due to the closure of campuses during the coronavirus crisis.

Gabriela Buitrion Vera at CU Boulder

Gabriela Buitrion Vera is a DACA recipient. She has a PhD from the University of Colorado.

“I have received the stimulus check from the government. I would like to say that it is from the government because some people are calling this the stimulus check from Donald Trump, which we have to remind ourselves that, as we paid taxes, we are entitled to this stimulus check. So it doesn’t come from the President, it comes from the government, from our taxes, so we are entitled to this. And I also have to remind the audience that I come from a mixed-status family. So not everybody from my family has received the check. Some of my siblings, for example, don’t have DACA protections, so they haven’t received any stimulus checks. In fact, they have lost their jobs. However, I have to mention that I also know there’s some people in the university, there are international students that have received the check.”

Buitrion Vera says that the exploitation of immigrant communities and people of color for labor has long been part of this country’s history.

“I think that the basis of neglecting communities of color, roots back from the beginning of this country and its foundation. As we have seen in history, this country was founded under the rules of bringing people or relocating people without their approval, and using them as basically laborers. In this case, we have the people that were brought from Africa and then what they did to other communities of color. The real citizens of this land, the Native Americans, they also relocated them. And this has been continuing throughout history.”

Elena Aranda (Left), Director of Wellness, Health & Education in the organization’s Grupo Compañeras with her daughter, GENESISTER Program Coordinator, Maya Sol Danise (Right)

There are several groups working to support immigrant families of all statuses through the pandemic. One is El Centro Amistad. Elena Aranda is the Director of Wellness, Health & Education in the organization’s Grupo Compañeras.

The non-profit moved their services to online platforms and gave community workshops on navigating the technology to keep connected. As one of the organizations receiving support from Voces Unidas, they are supporting the community in need.

Elena Aranda says people of color have had to be resilient in society, long before the coronavirus.

As communities grapple with the reality of the coronavirus and have discussions on making society more resilient to face future crises, we may look to immigrant and marginalized communities who have long been forced to be resilient in order to survive.

Watch the TRENDS Panel for this COVID-19 episode below:

Related KGNU Coverage:

Community Foundation of Boulder County COVID-19 Coverage:

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