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COVID Check-In: Why We Need More Outreach to Working-Age Latinos

Forum Director of Research Noreen Sugrue provides regular updates on the implications of the latest COVID-19 health data. This week, she analyzes the gap in outreach to Latinos in Illinois, and especially to those in the working-age range, which are experiencing astounding death rates.

By Noreen Sugrue, Director of Research

As more and better clinical options for detecting and treating COVID become available, we must recognize that equity needs to be the lens and metric by which we access the efficacy of all COVID-prevention efforts.

For Latinos, the risk of infection is enormous. Of all racial and ethnic groups, Latinos are at greatest risk for infection. This is due to structural inequities: their concentration in high risk (albeit essential) occupations, crowded and multigenerational living conditions, and low capacity to work from home or to stop working altogether. All of these factors combined place Latinos at the greatest risk for severe disease, complications, and death.

Despite these risks, testing of Latinos is very low. This community, which in Illinois has the highest rates of infection per 100,000 persons, also has the lowest rate of tests performed per 100,000. Latinos also have an increasingly high rate of death, especially in the working-age range: In Illinois, the most deaths among persons aged 20-59 are among Latinos. 

Young and working-age Latinos are either not getting tested, getting tested too late, or they lack access to testing or treatment. Or some combination of these. So, the fact that Latinos also have the highest rate of labor-force participation spells bad news. This level of death among the working-age population will have cascading short- and long-term negative consequences. It warns that there will be deleterious economic and labor force consequences on the horizon for the Latino community and Illinois as a whole, in addition to enormous personal and social loss.

There are new reports of an excess supply of monoclonal antibodies, a treatment option proven to decrease the severity of COVID. This treatment saves lives. However, it is most successful when given early in the course of the disease. The testing and death data among Latinos suggest that far too many are not being diagnosed early and are not being given (or are not appropriate candidates for) treatments that could, and would likely, save their lives.

The vaccine's approval for distribution is welcome news. But its rollout will take time. Meanwhile, Latinos are continuing to be infected at alarmingly high rates, the deaths among 20-59-year-old persons are unacceptably high, and we have yet to see a plan that clearly and equitably ensures this group is in an appropriately high-priority category for receiving the vaccine.

We must ask, how do these shockingly low rates factor into analysis that realigns resources for maximize success of stopping the damage of COVID? Clearly, we need more and better outreach, in English and Spanish, to Latinos and essential workplaces to ensure that they're getting tested, and to quell any fears that they may have about the vaccine.

A change in outreach efforts, policy priorities, and resource allocations surrounding COVID and its consequences is paramount.