STRUCTURAL RISK FACTORS are driving COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Latinos, a new study indicates.
As of June 8, 33% of COVID-19 cases with known race and ethnicity in the U.S. had been among Latinos, according to the study, published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology. Latinos make up approximately 18% of the U.S. population, and also account for about 1 in 5 deaths from the disease.
Yet while infection disparities have been stark in the Northeast, Midwest and the West, coronavirus risks among Latinos varied by region, the study shows. And factors tied to exposure to the virus, such as housing and employment, have generally played a bigger role than health status.
“Latinos in different areas of our country are having different experiences in the pandemic,” says Carlos Rodríguez-Díaz, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. “We need to understand the heterogeneity or the diversity within the Latino community before describing the pandemic in the United States among Latinos.”
Rodríguez-Díaz and fellow researchers analyzed data for approximately 440 counties with above-average Latino populations, and found that as of May 11, COVID-19 cases increased with the proportion of Latino residents in Midwestern and Northeastern counties; coronavirus deaths also increased in the Midwest. Researchers suspect that’s because many meatpacking and poultry processing plants – which have been tied to deadly coronavirus outbreaks – are concentrated in the Midwest.
Disproportionately Latino counties also tended to have more people living in one household, especially in the Northeast – a factor tied to a higher number of COVID-19 cases. Among counties with at least 200 coronavirus cases in the Northeast – a region slammed by the pandemic early on – heavily Latino areas had a death rate of 111 per 100,000, compared with 34.6 among communities with fewer Latino residents.
“The populations that were socially vulnerable before the pandemic … have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic,” says Rodríguez-Díaz, who’s also an adjunct professor at the University of Puerto Rico’s School of Public Health.
There were similarities across regions. Apart from crowded housing, disproportionately Latino counties generally had younger populations, more people who lacked health insurance, fewer Latino residents who spoke English only and more who spoke Spanish only or were bilingual.
Latinos also are heavily represented in jobs where working from home isn’t an option. The study found a slightly lower level of unemployment in heavily Latino counties, as well as a link between lower unemployment and higher rates of COVID cases among Latinos.
“Taken together, these findings suggest that a sole focus on individual-level factors such as risk behaviors is inadequate for implementing an effective national public health response to COVID-19 prevention and control within Latino communities,” the study says…Read more>>