Gov. Newsom pledges to do more as California's Latino population disproportionately impacted by COVID-19

Gov. Gavin Newsom is pledging to do more to protect essential workers, many of them Latino, from the pandemic and it's hardships.  

Lopsided infection numbers reveal the Latino population carries most of the COVID-19 burden. 

As a group, they make up 39 percent of the state population, but 55 percent of the cases, and 45 percent of the deaths. 

"In my family, I'm the only one able to work from home, everyone else has to go outside to work," said Helen Mejia, a recent college graduate who lives with her family in Novato.

Mejia said her family is very careful to take precautions because they are aware the threat is all around them. 

"A friend of our family passed away from COVID, we have neighbors up the street, their whole family has had COVID, and had to quarantine themselves, and we have another neighbor across the street with it," said Mejia. 

Latino business owners are not surprised at COVID's foothold in their communities.  

"The rent is so expensive, they can't afford to live by themselves, so people rent out a room," said Jose Robles, owner of Tacqueria La Fiesta, in the Alameda Del Prado Center in Novato. 

"So with a lot of people living in one place, when one person gets infected, they come home and infect the whole family." 

It's a risk factor the Governor is well aware of. 

"If they are exposed we need to make sure they can isolate and they can quarantine," said Newsom at his briefing Friday.  

"Because where are we seeing the spread? This is where, the essential workforce, and disproportionately people of color," Newsom continued. 

Newsom is pledging to protect front line workers in such occupations as agriculture, food service, and construction with expanded sick leave and workers comp benefits. 

He also wants to increase the number of hotel rooms available for individuals who cannot isolate at home.  

"People that are feeling sick, people that may be sick, we don't want them going to work, infecting other people, and causing a big outbreak," Newsom declared Friday. 
In Marin County, where Latinos constitute 16 percent of the population but 77 percent of the cases, Newsom's words were well-intentioned but vague. 

"I wish the Governor would come here to his home county and see how it's working," said Omar Carrera, CEO of Canal Alliance in San Rafael, a longtime advocacy organization for Latino immigrants.  

"I think it's time Newsom and other elected officials become bolder and come up with strategies that are really going to help us," Carrera said. 

Marin Public Health does outreach and offers testing in affected communities. 

The county also offers disaster relief payments to infected workers so they can afford to stay home. 

But Carrera believes the support strategy should be more robust.  

"You know we have one hotel in Novato that's helping, and that's it, there are no other hotels raising their hands, offering to help with the isolation." 

Thursday evening, a community meeting focused on the disproportionate level of coronavirus among Latinos, and how to address it. 

"We hear a lot of fear when we call people and notify them of a positive test," said Lisa Santora, Deputy Public Health Officer for Marin County.  

Santora notes, Latino patients are fearful of the illness, but also government intervention and being split apart. 

"You might have a mom who is earning wages, and caring for 3 children at home, and offering a hotel room and separating her from her children may not be a viable or desirable option," explained Santora. 

Tracking by occupation, the health departments sees trends.   

"We're seeing significant rates of disease in the food service industry, and in construction as well as the elder caregivers community," said Santora.  

Advocates point out, Latinos were key to California's economy pre-pandemic -- and now during -- and will be after. 

"If you want to reopen the economy, you must support the essential workers, you must support the Latino community," urged Carrera. 

For restaurant-owner Robles, it's very simple.   

"You have to work, you have to support the family," said Robles, "and they don't get anything, no stimulus check, no unemployment check, so it's either go to work or get nothing."

In addition to an aid package for essential workers, Newsom says he will work with the legislature on two other initiatives: cracking down on companies that expose workers to COVID-19 risks, and making it mandatory that employers report outbreaks.