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‘We can’t leave anyone out’: COVID-19 affects Carroll County’s Hispanic population at disproportionate rate

Although Carroll County has seen relatively modest increases of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, the disease has had a particularly disproportionate impact on the county’s Hispanic population.

According to Carroll County Health Department data, as of July 13, Hispanic people make up 17% of the community’s cases — not including cases from congregate living facilities, such as nursing homes, rehab centers, and correctional facilities — even though U.S. Census data shows that only 3.9% of the county’s population is Hispanic.

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“In our particular county it doesn’t look like either the nursing home facilities nor the correctional facilities are the place where there’s an increased rate of infection for Hispanics, but in the community cases, there certainly is,” said Rachel Tabler, a spokesperson for the health department. Hispanic people account for only 2% of cases in Carroll congregate living facilities, health department data shows.

A recent study by Johns Hopkins University found that the rate of infection among Hispanic people in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area is almost five times that of white people and more than twice that of Black people. Hispanic people have the highest rate of infection — relative to their population size — of any ethnic group in Maryland, accounting for 26.5% of the cases in the state while they only represent 10.6% of the state’s population.

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The Hispanic community faces a number of unique challenges, according to Michelle LaRue, the senior manager of health and social services at CASA, a Latino advocacy and assistance organization operating in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

According to LaRue, Hispanic people tend to work service industry jobs considered to be essential, including cleaning services, restaurant work and other commercial areas.

“We also do have a large portion of our community working in the service industry, so a lot of restaurant food service workers were left without jobs, but a lot of our other industries that were never shut down, like construction, are ones that put us at a higher risk because we were constantly going out and putting ourselves at risk by getting exposed,” LaRue said.

In addition to working essential jobs, LaRue said, many Hispanic people live in multigenerational households, increasing the risk of infection.

“It is very typical in Latino households that we live in intergenerational homes due to economic reasons,” she said. “So all of these factors combined really make us more at risk in getting the virus and transmitting it to our family and friends.”

A particular challenge for Hispanic families during this time seems to be a language barrier that is often present.

“Language is obviously a big part of it, but also cultural competency needs to be a part of the conversation and not just rogue translations,” LaRue said. “You can’t exactly use Facebook for the younger generation, and Snapchat wouldn’t work for the elderly. So you really have to tailor your messages and the outlets you use to get your messages out.”

Maggie Kunz, a Carroll County Health Department spokesperson, said that insurance also poses a big challenge for communities of Hispanic people who are unsure about whether they can afford specific health-related services.

“Language access and making sure that information is being disseminated to all sectors is going to be critical,” LaRue said. “And so making sure that in our case, the Latino community knows that they can get it, where they can get it, and how much it’s going to cost because you know, so many of our community members are uninsured.”

According to Kunz, the health department has a number of resources available for Spanish-speaking patients on its website. Testing information is disseminated on social media both in English and Spanish, and flyers are also distributed in Spanish at testing sites with information on self-isolation and other procedures.

LaRue also said CASA has been working tirelessly with multiple jurisdictions — local, state and federal — to make sure the Hispanic community is getting the resources they need to navigate through the pandemic.

CASA co-signed a letter earlier this month in conjunction with the chairman of the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus and other organizations to press Gov. Larry Hogan to distribute financial aid to the state’s nearly 250,000 undocumented Marylanders. The letter also warns Hogan of a homeless crisis if the ban on evictions is lifted while families are still struggling with debt and unemployment.

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“When it comes to infectious diseases, we can’t leave anyone out because if there’s ever a time where we’re so interconnected it’s when it comes to infectious diseases,” LaRue said, “especially one that is as contagious as this one.”

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