Latinx people are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in Colorado.

After suspecting that she had caught the coronavirus, Juliette, an employee at the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, who did not wish to reveal her surname, went to get tested for the coronavirus. Her results came back negative. A few days later, she ended up in the hospital because of the virus, and so did her dad.

Job loss, evictions, lack of access to mental health, and wellness support. These are all realities and consequences of COVID-19 for many families across the United States. Yet evidence shows that the virus continues to excessively affect people of color.

Data suggests that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Latinx communities across the country. An average Latinx person is three times more likely to contract the deadly virus compared to a white person. The disproportionate rates of infection have been particularly obvious in the state of Colorado.

For Juliette and her Latinx colleagues at the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, this does not come as a surprise.

“She works part-time for us, but she also works part-time at a restaurant,” said Rachel Griego, the Vice President of Philanthropy for the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado. “she lives with her parents and her brother.”

Even though Latinx people make up an estimated 22% of the population in Colorado, they make up 38% of the total coronavirus cases in the state. The graph below shows that cases among Latinx people in Colorado are comparable to cases among White people who make up to 87.1% of the population.

Cases are especially high in Latinx communities in Denver, where they make up over 52% of total cases. Latinx deaths are also disproportionately higher in Colorado, as indicated in the graph below.

Why cases and death numbers are so high amongst Latinx people can be broken down to three main reasons: Being essential workers, cultural and language barriers, and existing inequalities which are exacerbated through the pandemic.

Latinx people are more likely to be essential workers 

The high number of COVID-19 cases in Latinx communities could be attributed to the minimal work from home opportunities many Latinx people have. According to UnidosUS, The median household income for Latinx families in Colorado is almost $20,000 less than the state median of $71,953 at only $55,206 and the poverty rate for Latinx people sits at 12.9%, in comparison to the state average of 6.2%.

“It definitely exacerbated a lot of the disparities that already exist in the communities,” said Griego. “It sort of lifted that veil that had been on for a very long time, and has been where people know there are issues and challenges but don’t really know them until they start seeing these large numbers come out.”

According to a survey conducted by Latino Decisions, more than 45% of Latinx workers in Colorado had experienced a cut in work hours or pay because of the coronavirus and 62% of respondents were worried about someone in their family or themselves losing their jobs.

“Economic assistance was the main need at first,” said Krueger. “People were losing their jobs and not being able to get funding for anything.”

According to the Pew Research Centre, an estimated 8 million Hispanic people in the United States were employed in essential services, including restaurants, hotels, and the service sector that put them at higher risk of job loss.

“A lot of them are what you call essential workers,” said Griego. “We’re talking about the people who are still continuing to put food on the table for our communities, whether they’re farmworkers or whether they are retail operators.”

Griego says that many people in the Latino community do not have the luxury to work from home, and are more likely to be exposed to getting COVID-19 due to their occupation.

“They’re not in those types of occupations that allow them to be at home and not to be exposed,” Griego said. “They’re also more likely to take public transportation, there were probably people who were getting COVID as a result of having to take the bus or having to take the metro, they had to make money.”

Cultural differences and language barriers

Another factor that plays a role in a large amount of COVID-19 cases among the Latinx community in Colorado can be related to their number of people who live in one household.

“Our community generally lives in multigenerational households. So you have young children, and you also have older adults in the same house,” said Griego. “It’s economic reasons, but a lot of it is just cultural reasons as well.”

A survey by Latino Decisions shows that the majority of Latinx Coloradan residents do not trust English media on information related to the Coronavirus. Griego believes that the existing messaging about COVID-19 has not been effective with the Latinx community and that it is important that the English speaking Latinx community is working together to make messaging more impactful for people who may have a language barrier.

“You’re trying to talk to someone and it’s not resonating with them, It’s a white person telling me to do X, Y and Z, I don’t know who you are, and I don’t trust you,” Griego said.

Griego believes that there is a lot of misinformation within the community about the coronavirus, which may have contributed to the high amount of cases.

“They don’t think that they’re going to get it, there’s misinformation out there through social media and other things,” Griego said. “There’s also cultural values and religion, I think that there’s some deep-rooted things that we fall back on, in terms of remedies and keeping our families safe, and for a pandemic and how COVID spreads, it just doesn’t work.”

Currently, the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado actively working on resources and ways to minimize the misinformation and send correct messaging on the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We worked to do some culturally responsive lists and making sure that people felt comfortable with where you send them to seek out these resources,” Krueger said. “We know everyone is struggling, but if you go somewhere where the person can’t even speak the same language as you, you’re not going to have a good experience.

When we look at deaths by ethnicity, we see a larger number of Hispanic deaths, as shown in the graph below.

Although a high number of White deaths are also shown, according to Marisa Krueger, the Coordinator of Evaluation and Events at the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, many Latinx people identify as being White instead of Latinx which can also be confusing for the data.

“So there’s the white, non-Hispanic, and then there are the Hispanic all races and so that really muddles the data for Latinos as a whole,” Krueger said. “Our data gets a little muddled because a lot of Hispanic folks still identify as white as their main identifier.”

How COVID exacerbated the technical divide

A report by Colorado Future Centre estimated that there are almost 55,000 school-aged children in Colorado who do not have reliable internet connections in their homes, and more than 75% of them are from a Hispanic background. Many of these school-aged children, also have parents who work in companies that do not allow them to work from home. An estimated 57% of these parents are considered essential workers.

An executive order by Governor Polis asked all schools in Colorado to close on March 18th. Although schools had the opportunities later to open up, many districts had already decided to move their teaching completely online.

“So we have a single lady that was fired from her job in June, she couldn’t even have her kids go to school because she couldn’t pay the rent and she lives in a mobile home,” said Maria Gonzalez, the founder of the Adelante Community Development Team. “They shut down the internet, so no communication, and she could not afford to have a cell phone.”

In response to these technical barriers, Colorado state filed a petition which urged Federal Communications Commission to waive restrictions on federally funded broadband access in student homes. The petition hoped to extend the access of internet connectivity to student’s homes.  Colorado’s Commissioner of Education, Katy Anthes, also announced in September that the state will invest $2 million in coronavirus relief funds to ensure that all students have access to the necessary resources which will allow them to study from home.

The state is also working closely with large telecommunications companies, to provide a free hotspot for families of students. T-mobile is working on providing 100GB of data a year for low-income families which will be available for the next five years.

For Gonzalez, she believes that the most important thing the state can do is to include Latinx people in decision making and conversations.

“People are making decisions where we are not a part of, and we’re not being acknowledged, we’re not being validated. It’s time we have a seat on the table and talks about it,” she said. “As members of the community, we contribute, we pay taxes we work, there is so much we contribute to, but where is our support?”