Hispanic and Latino groups hit hard with coronavirus, VDH says

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- The coronavirus can affect anyone, but data from the Virginia Department of Health shows that certain racial and ethnic groups are being hit the hardest locally.

"In our health district, we did note a predominance of folks in the Harrisonburg and Rockingham area who had English as a second language were using the translator line quite a bit," said Dr. Laura Kornegay during a presentation Tuesday night.

In Harrisonburg, Latino and Hispanic groups make up 20 percent of the population, yet they account for 37 percent of COVID-19 cases.

In Rockingham County, Hispanic and Latino groups make up 7 percent of the population, but account for 32 percent of positive cases.

As of May 1, overall, data showed 47.8% of the coronavirus cases reported in the Central Shenandoah Health District were among people who reported Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. Of the 793 total cases in the area, 195 people did not report their ethnicity.

Dr. Kornegay said the numbers are underestimated.

According to the CDC, this disproportionate burden of illness is often due to economic and social conditions that are more common among some racial and ethnic minorities than whites.

The CDC explains that living conditions, underlying health conditions, lower access to care, and work circumstances could all contribute to the inequity. Often, the risk of infection is greater for workers in essential industries who continue to work during outbreaks.

CDC data also shows that nearly 25 percent of Hispanic and Black or African American workers are employed in service industry jobs compared to 16 percent of non-Hispanic whites. Hispanic workers also account for 17 percent of total employment but constitute 53 percent of agriculture workers.

Harrisonburg Vice Mayor Sal Romero said he's heard theses concerns locally.

"I have heard from so many essential workers, who are going to work in fear or just unable to stay home because they have a family to sustain," he said.

Romero also said that a language barrier may contribute to this trend, but Harrisonburg has been working to close the language divide.

"We are creating flyers, door hangers, public services announcements," he said. "We are trying to reach our families through congregations to make sure that this information is provided to everyone in our city.

Romero added that he has been doing informational videos in spanish for seven weeks.

"Access to information is critical," Romero said.

In March, the VDH's health equity working group was formed to study the data in more depth and determine how vulnerable populations in the Commonwealth are more likely to be impacted.

You can find demographic data on COVID-19 cases for Virginia as a whole, as well by individual health districts, in the dashboard below.