Whether it's socioeconomic status, underlying health issues or a tradition of multigenerational housing, COVID-19 continues to disproportionately impact the local Latino community.
As of Friday, about 71 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Kern County in which the race or ethnicity is known are from the Latino community, according to data from the Kern County Public Health Services Department. However, Latinos only make up 54.6 percent of Kern County's population, according to U.S. census estimates as of July 2019.
Latinos make up 6,228 of the county’s more than 19,000 positive cases; however, the race or ethnicity is unknown for 10,640 of the cases.
Bakersfield City Councilman Andrae Gonzales said he “absolutely” believes more needs to be done for the local Latino community. He said the community needs more personal protective equipment as well as quicker test turnaround times.
“Many families cannot afford the luxury of staying home,” Gonzales said. “They are essential workers who have to go to work.”
Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez spoke at the soft opening of a coronavirus testing center in May at the Richard Prado Senior Center in east Bakersfield alongside actor-director Sean Penn. Perez, a native of east Bakersfield, said in May that its residents are some of the most “medically underserved in the U.S.”
A few weeks ago, the testing center in east Bakersfield ceased its operations and moved to the Kern County Fairgrounds where it operated before being converted into the new federal surge testing center, according to county health department spokeswoman Michelle Corson.
Armando Elenes, secretary-treasurer for the United Farm Workers in Delano, said he hasn't seen or heard any efforts on the part of the county health department.
"Maybe that tells you something," Elenes said.
But in an interview Friday, Corson said a “robust” COVID-19 awareness campaign has been provided locally in both English and Spanish.
“Specifically, we have provided awareness in Spanish through social media, flyers and infographics, billboards — several located in east Bakersfield — radio and TV PSAs and our COVID-19 webpage includes Spanish guidance documents and dashboard,” Corson said.
She also said the county health department has partnered with Jay Tamsi of the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Together, they developed “key messaging” to best reach the Latino community and created a PSA and billboard campaign, according to Corson.
Throughout California, Latinos made up 56.6 percent of all COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, according to the California Department of Public Health. Latinos also make up 46.1 percent of all state COVID-19 deaths, despite only making up 38.9 percent of the population, only about 2 percent more than the white population.
In recent interviews, nurses at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital have told The Californian that the COVID-19 patients they're seeing are disproportionately Latino.
"They have a great culture of family (togetherness) but right now it's hurting them," said Terri Church, vice president and chief nursing officer for Bakersfield Memorial Hospital and Dignity Health Central California Division.
Church said it's important to socially distance, even from your extended family, with the virus spreading in Kern so rampantly right now.
At Clinica Sierra Vista, the patients they've served have “absolutely” followed the local statistics and trends of COVID-19 disproportionately affecting people of color, low-income and individuals with health issues, according to Tim Calahan, director of public relations and community development at the clinic.
“Socioeconomic status typically has a lot to do with health outcomes in life,” Calahan said.
Like Gonzales, Calahan said most of these patients disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 are essential workers who haven't stopped working throughout the pandemic and potentially utilize high-traffic areas such as public transportation.
Calahan also believes another factor that can impact the Latino community locally is “multigenerational housing.”
“You have grandparents and aunts and uncles living home with a young child who might get sick and before you know it, the whole family is sick,” Calahan said.
He said the disproportionate statistics are concerning to Clinica Sierra Vista. He said that by design, its clinics are placed in communities with many Latinos that include Arvin, Lamont and east Bakersfield.
Calahan said the clinics have provided health and safety education to people from the Latino community throughout the pandemic. Next week, he said representatives from the clinic will be visiting a farmworker crew to provide free medical screening as well as COVID-19 testing.
“That’s the core of what us as a health clinic are trying to do, is to reach people from all entry points (in the community),” Calahan said. “We are trying to reach people that haven’t had access to medical care in a long time, whether it’s if they are undocumented or don’t have a doctor.”