COVID-19 Highlights Factors of Structural Racism That Put Latino Communities at Risk

Crowded housing, air pollution and occupational factors may be putting Latinos at higher risk of COVID-19 in the US.

A newly-released study has confirmed the beliefs we’ve had for quite some time. Structural racism is still prevalent and its’ factors have put Latino communities in the United States at high risk of COVID-19.

Lead author of the study, Carlos E. Rodriguez Diaz, commented, “We found that crowded housing, air pollution, jobs in the meatpacking and poultry industry and other factors put Latinos at high risk of COVID-19 infections and death,” said the associate professor of prevention and community health. “Our study’s findings will help us look for tailored interventions aimed at keeping Latino communities healthy and safe.”

Other reports have suggested that despite Latino communities making up 18% of the US population, they have accounted for 33% of all known COVID-19 cases. The study revealed that Latino risks and deaths varied by region, with more COVID-19 infections found in the Midwestern and Northeastern Latino counties.

In the Northeast, a higher number of Latinos live in crowded housing units and have occupations in working on the front line or in essential jobs, making it harder to practice social distancing or isolate when needed. Frequently located near busy main roads or polluting industries which has proven to affect the respiratory system, predominantly Northeastern Latino neighbourhoods are at a higher risk for COVID-19 infection.

Researchers discovered COVID-19 deaths to be higher only in the Midwestern Latino counties. Rodriquez-Diaz believes the high risk of death to be related to the lack of health care and occupational risk – many in these areas work in unsafe meatpacking plants without protective equipment nor the space to maintain a safe distance from co-workers.

Five out of six Latinos in the US work in delivery jobs or work that requires travel which naturally increase the risk of exposure to the virus. Rodriguez-Diaz warns that it is also very likely that the risks for infections and disease for these communities remains the same due to the lack of policies to address them early in the epidemic.

Yet research has shown that Latinos and BIPOC are at a higher risk of getting infected with the virus or dying from it. Many of the same authors of the study previously showed contributing factors of structural racism also mean that COVID-19 deaths in Black communities are much higher than average.

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Wellbeing writer, host for The Inspired Narrative podcast and mental health support worker.

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