‘Latino Voices’ Community Conversation: COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities in Chicago and across the country. 

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Among the 4,555 Chicagoans who have died after testing positive for COVID-19, 38% are Black, 33% are Latino and 20% are white. 

However, the city’s population is more evenly distributed, with roughly one-third Black, one-third Latino and one-third white, according to Census data. 

On Monday, “Chicago Tonight: Latino Voices” host Hugo Balta moderated a community conversation about the disproportionate impact the coronavirus has had on the Latino community, and the available COVID-19 vaccines.

“We are three times as likely to get the disease, and twice as high the risk of dying from it,”said Dr. Geraldine Luna, medical director of COVID-19 Response Bureau in the Chicago Department of Public Health. “That has everything to do with the conditions, like decades of racism and discrimination, and the nature of everything we do. We’re overrepresented in the workers line, and the lifestyle — all the things we do to survive are all the things that are now working against us.”

Dr. Marina Del Rios noticed this disproportionate impact in her own hospital in the early days of the pandemic. She’s an emergency room physician at UI Health and the first person in Chicago to receive the coronavirus vaccine

“Early on we saw all faces of the pandemic, but in terms of the people that were ending up hospitalized in the intensive unit at a more severe course of illness … It’s been a disproportionate number of people that look and sound like the people on this panel,” Del Rios said. 

While Black and Latino Chicagoans are more likely to contract the coronavirus, suffer serious illness or die, about 67% of Chicagoans who have received at least the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine are white or Asian; 17% are Latino and 15% are Black, according to city data as of Monday. 

Many Americans appear to be hesitant to get the coronavirus vaccine. This is particularly true for Black and Brown communities, who have seen historic mistrust in medical institutions, and experience other barriers such as access to health care. 

Enrique Mendoza said some of the hesitancy among Latinos is mistrust in the government. He’s vice president of The Southwest Collective and leader of the organization’s COVID-19 efforts. He’s also a legal advocate at the Legal Council for Health Justice.

“The problem here is when it comes to policy, the communities here just don’t see that they’re a priority, so when something like a public health crisis — such as a pandemic — happens, I don’t think that they feel like the government is actually prioritizing their needs. The previous administration did a very good job about really unleashing lots of harmful policies on immigrant communities, and so it clearly sent a message that, well, you’re not welcome here.”

One way to begin addressing mistrust is to listen to the concerns community members have, said Miguel Blancarte Jr., director for COVID-19 response and community outreach at Esperanza Health Centers.

“A couple of weeks ago we surveyed a large percentage of our patients that had identified themselves as Hispanic/Latinos,” Blancarte said. The survey was delivered in English and Spanish; 2,000 people responded. 

“It’s really about getting their input and being able to respond to that, listening to them and listening to whatever their hesitations may be there and addressing that, and knowing really where they receive their information from as well. What are the resources that they rely on for information,” Blancarte said. 

On Monday, the city announced an initiative to address inequities in the distribution of the vaccine, focusing on informing residents and scheduling appointments in 15 community areas on Chicago’s South, West and Northwest sides, where people are more likely to get COVID-19 and become seriously ill.

More on this series

This community conversation is a part of a monthly series that coincides with two weekend programs from WTTW News: “Chicago Tonight: Latino Voices” and “Chicago Tonight Black Voices.” Join Brandis Friendman for our next “Black Voices” community conversation on Monday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m.

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