UPDATE (2:04 p.m. PT) — Oregon's Hispanic population continues to be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, a trend reinforced by the Oregon Health Authority's updated demographic data released Tuesday.
That data shows that about 22% or 340 out of the 1,574 Oregonians who tested positive with COVID-19 have been identified as Hispanic. That figure is disproportionate to the overall Hispanic population, which makes up 13% of the Oregon population.
And there could be an even larger portion of Hispanics in Oregon with COVID-19, considering that 29% of Oregon’s cases involved people who did not report whether they identified as Hispanic or not. OHA said the data may be updated.
OHA senior health adviser Dawn Mautner said the agency and the state are deeply concerned about what the data shows and its reflection of systemwide disparities that potentially impact vulnerable communities.
“The structural racism and systemic disparities that lead to financial insecurity, substandard housing, jobs that can’t be done remotely, jobs that don’t offer health insurance and potentially limited access to healthcare, have chronically lead to underlying conditions that put people at greater risk for COVID-19,” Mautner said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults and people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, hypertension and obesity might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Other reports have also shown that African Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk of being infected with the coronavirus.
“So, we’re very concerned about the health of those vulnerable communities during this pandemic and have been working very hard to try and target outreach in a way that supports those communities,” Mautner said.
Latino Network director of advocacy Ricardo Lujan-Valerio said the disproportionately high number of Hispanics affected by the coronavirus may be a result of the large number of Hispanic people working in occupations that put them at risk of exposure.
“The biggest industries that have been hit, restaurants, construction not only are Latino communities a huge presence in those industries, in many cases, they’re the backbone of the business,” Lujan-Valerio said. “They’re the cooks in the kitchen and without them, there is no restaurant. They’re the main labor force for specific construction projects and without them, there is no project.”
He said he has been getting calls from members in the community worried about being laid off and about their financial stability. Others who are working have told him their jobs are not providing any social distancing guidelines while they work, putting them in an extremely vulnerable situation.
“I think that we still haven’t seen the worst of what is to come and I’m just afraid about the level in which this is actually going to play out for Black and Latino communities,” Lujan-Valerio said.
OHA will continue to interview and gather information among people who have tested positive and said the data may start to shift as more people are tested.
The agency is also working with several community-based and community-serving organizations to better understand how to best share information in other languages.
“The bottom line of that is open communication and ongoing connectedness with community partners both in Spanish and in English, but working with organizations on the ground in the community who have good connections with an understanding of their communities in order to let that inform our work and our outreach,” Mautner said.
Correction: April 16, 2020. An earlier version of this story misstated the relationship between serious underlying medical conditions and the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.