SAN RAFAEL, Calif. - Resources and funding are being diverted to help a low-income and mainly Latino district in Marin County that is dealing with an overwhelming and disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases.
Data from the Marin Health and Human Services shows those identifying as Latino or Hispanic make up just 16% of the county’s population. But the same group makes up 75% of infections and more than half of all the coronavirus hospitalizations.
It comes as community groups step up to partner with health officials and provide guidance, routine testing and assistance as cases rise.
“If we neglect any one group, it affects us all,” Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis said. “What the virus is showing us is that there are unique vulnerabilities in that community that need to be addressed.”
Marin County is one of the wealthiest in the state, but the Latinx community supplies the majority of the essential workforce including field workers, grocery store clerks and restaurant employees. Most of them live in lower income neighborhoods.
“They are not paid attention to like the rest of the county,” restaurant owner Leslie Burnside said. “I can at least try to protect my people.”
She has continued to pay her Latino cooks, dishwashers and servers amid the pandemic. But she can’t protect them from other factors.
With low wages and high rent, many of these essential workers are living in overcrowded homes with an inability to self-isolate if they or a family member become infected.
The risks are compounded because Latinos also have higher rates of asthma, obesity and diabetes, according to federal data. Additionally, they face limited health care or a lack of insurance
This isn’t just a Marin County problem. Similar factors are disproportionally affecting Latinx neighborhoods across the country. Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows those who identify as Latino or Hispanic are three to four times more likely to contract the virus than those who are white.
“This was years in the making,” Christian Arana with the Latino Community Foundation said. “We don’t all live in luxury mansions with four to five bedrooms.”
His organization has raised more than $1.5 million for the “Love Not Fear Fund” to support Bay Area Latino nonprofits and in turn provide food, economic assistance and COVID-19 testing. That includes groups in Marin County.
“With the Latino community, there’s always been this fear of government,” Arana said. “Any public messaging out there about the coronavirus needs to be filtered by those trusted messengers on the ground.”
One of those messengers is the Canal Alliance, directly helping the Latinx community where COVID-19 infections have rapidly spread. More than 3,000 tests have been done in The Canal District and 20 percent have had positive results.
“If we don’t fix the problem in The Canal, nobody in the county is going to be safe,” the organization’s CEO Omar Carrera said. “As we increase testing in this community, we’re going to be seeing maybe a worse problem than we can even imagine.”
Part of the problem is fear of losing a job or being unable to provide for their family. It has forced positive patients to ignore their sickness and health guidance and go to work despite being infected.
It is that reality that has set off alarms, exacerbating the inequities between ethnic groups. Overall, assistance and support is limited, especially for undocumented immigrants.
“It’s painful to see this all going on,” Carrera said. “We can keep testing. We can keep helping people on the ground level. But if we don’t have policies to compliment that work, then it doesn’t make sense.”
For now, attention is on the health crisis and partnerships between nonprofit groups like Canal Alliance and the county’s health department. Specifically, focus has been on education, support and shining a light on those who play a critical part in Marin’s economic lifeblood.
“I think we all need to realize that we are one fabric, we are one community,” Willis said. “We need to take care of one another.”