In Illinois, Latinos are the most contaminated by Coronavirus

Illinois latino Residents BElatina latinx
Chicago resident Arturo Morales holds a picture of his wife, Besabe Roman, a Latina who died of COVID-19 on April 1. But data from the Cook County medical examiner's office identified her as white. Courtesy of Arturo Morales

The Illinois Department of Public Health, reported 15,026 cases of COVID-19 infection among Latinos as of May 4.  As recently as March of this year,  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a stark disparity in infection rates between racial and ethnic minority groups.  According to the CDC report,  recent March data from 580 patients hospitalized with lab-confirmed COVID-19 found that 45% of individuals for whom race or ethnicity data was available were white, compared to 55% of individuals in the surrounding community. However, 33% of hospitalized patients were black compared to 18% in the community and 8% were Hispanic, compared to 14% in the community.  Among COVID-19 deaths for which race and ethnicity data were available, identified death rates among Black/African American persons (92.3 deaths per 100,000 population) and Hispanic/Latino persons (74.3) that were substantially higher than that of white (45.2) or Asian (34.5) persons. 

According to  the Illinois Department of Public Health Hispanics account for 15,026 individuals testing positive for the virus vs. 12,438 testing positive in the Black community, 13,825 in the White community and 2047 in the Asian community.   Latinos have tested positive for the virus, “despite making up less than a fifth of the state’s population,” according to a report in the Chicago Sun Times. These statistics are highlighted by local reporting from geographic areas where the population of Latinos has grown steadily, such as Illinois, and also in regions where U.S. Latinos have traditionally made their homes, such as Arizona.

For Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois Public Health Director, one of the reasons may be the dynamics and family structure of the community, as reported by the Chicago Sun Times:

“One of the beautiful things about the Latino culture is their family cohesiveness and the situation where you have … grandparents and parents and children living together, it means there’s going to be easier spread,” Ezike said.

Similarly, Dr. Marina del Rios, who practices emergency medicine at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago, another reason is the inability of Latinos to practice social distance. “It’s a privilege not all of us have,” she said.

Del Rios added that lack of access to medical services and in some cases poor language skills have also contributed to the increase in cases in the community.

“Prohibiting visitors means that when abuelita comes and doesn’t speak a lick of English, there’s sometimes no one there to translate for her,” she said.

“I’ve heard stories of people that have gone to the hospital and because they weren’t able to communicate how sick they are, they’re sent home without proper instructions as to when they should come back. And when they do come back, it’s too late,” she added.

This circumstance, on the other hand, is not exclusive to the state.

In Arizona, displays of affection among Latinos have been another identified cause of the rapid spread of the disease.

“As a matter of fact, a lot of kids will get reprimanded if they don’t give an abrazo to their nana or tata, or their tio or tia, and so on,” said Salomón Baldenegro, the now-retired founder of University of Arizona’s Mexican American and Chicano studies program, to AZ Central. “It’s an integral part of our culture. It’s almost subconscious. You don’t even think about it. You just do it. It’s that ingrained.”

For Cristalis Capielo Rosario, a professor of counseling psychology at Arizona State University who is of Puerto Rican descent, this is an idiosyncratic trait deeply rooted in Latino culture.

“The way we communicate affection with one another for most of us is through physical contact, which would be the hug or the kiss on the cheek,” Capielo Rosario said. “Culturally, we want to establish relationships that are based on mutual trust. … so for us, part of building that relationship is having the contact.”

Local reporting sourced from the Chicago Sun-Times and Arizona Central.