SALT LAKE CITY — The new coronavirus is disproportionately affecting the Hispanic and Latino community in Utah, officials reported Tuesday.
© Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Lee Cherie Booth, a nurse with the Salt Lake County Health Department, tests an individual for COVID-19 outside of the Salt Lake City Public Health Center on Friday, April 10, 2020.
After analyzing data by race and ethnicity, the Utah Department of Health discovered that 28% of those 2,412 who have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday identify as Hispanic or Latino/Latina, while they only make up 14% of Utah’s population.
“I think this pandemic is definitely bringing out the disparities that exist within our health systems and our health outcomes,” said Laura Summers, senior health care analyst at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
The data aligns with what’s being seen nationally as COVID-19 has affected minority groups in many communities at a higher rate. Tuesday marked the first time Utah has released any ethnicity based demographic data on the disease.
Non-medical factors, including where someone works, lives and worships, play a large impact on one’s physical health, Summers explained. And many in the Hispanic and Latino community perform jobs that don’t provide opportunities to take time off or telework, causing them to be exposed at a higher rate.
Others have been affected by layoffs due to the economic shutdown.
“This is not new,” Maria Montes, community engagement and organizing coordinator for Comunidades Unidas, said Tuesday.
Factors like reduced access to health care can lead to an increased likelihood of having underlying health conditions. And lack of culturally appropriate information surrounding COVID-19 can create “the perfect storm” for Latinos disproportionately testing positive for the coronavirus, according to Montes.
Comunidades Unidas, a nonprofit that provides resources to those in the community, has been receiving calls about the difficulties Utah’s Latino communities have faced trying to connect with Spanish-speaking specialists through coronavirus-related hotlines.
“Some of the support that they’ve been receiving through the line is not as effective as it needs to be,” she said. “It’s not culturally appropriate.”
“Our providers are not prepared to provide health care in the most culturally adequate way. They’re not always able to connect with patients in a way that humanizes the patients that are sitting in front of them,” Montes explained.
Further, many Latinos have had negative experiences visiting doctors in the past, Montes explained. And historically, those experiences have led to mistrust between Latino communities and health care communities.
Data the Kem C. Gardner Institute compiled in 2017 showed a 10-year difference between those living in Salt Lake City neighborhoods with the highest life expectancy — the Avenues and Foothill, both higher-income neighborhoods — and the shortest life expectancy in Glendale and South Salt Lake, Summers noted.
According to statistics from the Utah Health Department, 16.7% of those in the state’s Hispanic and Latino community are living in poverty, more than double the rate of white, non-Hispanic residents.
It’s not a new issue, Summers agreed. The pandemic has only intensified it.
“I think it’s always surprising to actually hear it. I think once you get past that initial surprise and start to think through some of the reasons that might be behind driving that rate, it’s not surprising and it probably shouldn’t be surprising,” she explained.
But the disparities have been known for a long time “and there has been a need to address them for a long time,” Summers said.
“Where this is a much faster-moving disease, and just the exposure rate is greater where everyone sort of has an equal opportunity of being exposed to it, I do think hopefully that it will bring these issues to a bigger light and generate that call for action.”
While the health care community has been working to address the issue, change happens slowly, said Dr. Pamela Perlich, director of demographic research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
The pandemic, however, “definitely brings up the need to continue moving in that direction and try to move faster,” Perlich said.
Dr. Angela Dunn, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, also described the pandemic as “shining a particularly bright light onto these disparities.”
Social distancing recommendations and state and local governments’ requests for people to avoid the virus by working from home “are definitely preferential to a higher socioeconomic status, and leave those communities who are more disparate bearing a bigger burden of COVID-19,” Dunn explained.
More demographic data about COVID-19 in Utah will be released later this week, according to the epidemiologist.
Meanwhile, one more person has died from COVID-19 in Utah, officials confirmed, bringing the state’s total to 19.
The latest fatality was a Utah County man, described only as an immunocompromised older adult under age 60 who died at a hospital, Dunn said.
Forty-nine new cases were reported in the state on Tuesday. About 46,500 people have been tested, less than 1,000 since the previous day.
So far, 213 people have required hospitalization at some point during the pandemic. At least 218 residents who were diagnosed three weeks ago and survived are considered recovered.
The breakdown of Utah COVID-19 cases by health district as of Tuesday:
Salt Lake County, 1,187; 108 hospitalized Utah County, 335; 18 hospitalized Summit County, 306; 28 hospitalized Davis County, 211; 21 hospitalized Wasatch County, 102; 5 hospitalized Weber-Morgan, 104; 9 hospitalized Southwest Utah, 58; 9 hospitalized Bear River, 48; 8 hospitalized Tooele County, 34; 4 hospitalized San Juan County, 9; 2 hospitalized Central Utah, 6; 1 hospitalized Southeast Utah, 4; 0 hospitalized TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 8; 0 hospitalized