Latino, immigrant workers, hit hardest by COVID-19, see little aid from government, leaders say

Latino, immigrant workers, hit hardest by COVID-19, see little aid from government, leaders say
Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, flanked by Gov. Ralph Northam, left, also a doctor, and Secretary of Health Dr, Daniel Carey, right, spoke at a news conference on Capitol Square in March.Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

With Latino Virginians among those with the highest infection rates of the new coronavirus and afflicted by the severe disease it causes – COVID-19 – Latino leaders are asking why government outreach and aid to their sizable community has been negligible.

Despite assurances of aggressive assistance by Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Health, little has materialized, the leaders said. Spanish-language outreach, coronavirus testing, accommodations for those who need to be quarantined, and aid covering costs of medical treatment are sorely lacking, they said.

“I am very disappointed in how this is being handled,” said Luis Aguilar, the Virginia director of CASA, a nonprofit that advocates for Latinos and low-wage workers nationally and in several Virginia localities.

“They’re pretending as if this pandemic affects all of us equally and that everyone has equal access. They do not. It’s absolutely clear that the governor does not understand what inequality means,” Aguilar said.

Statewide, Hispanic and Latino Virginians account for 29 percent of the confirmed coronavirus cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations for which racial and ethnic information is known, according to VDH data as of Friday. Yet Hispanics and Latinos accounted for slightly less than 10 percent of Virginia’s population of 8.5 million, according to U.S. Census figures from July 2018.

The disparity is more pronounced in areas with heavy immigrant populations.

In the Fairfax Health District, for instance, Hispanic or Latino patients accounted for 46 percent of its 7,245 confirmed coronavirus cases and 41 percent of its 1,050 COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Friday, even though the group accounts for only about 16 percent of Fairfax County’s population. The health district for the adjacent city of Alexandria reported almost identical numbers.

Nearly three of every five hospitalized COVID-19 patients were Latino in the Prince William Health District, which encompasses the three jurisdictions with Virginia’s heaviest Latino percentages: Manassas Park (40 percent); Manassas city (38 percent); and Prince William County (24 percent).

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.