When you study COVID-19 data for the Monterey Bay Area, you'll notice a trend that is also present nationwide - people of color are being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. Locally, it's the Latino and Hispanic communities.
Despite only making up about a third of the population in Santa Cruz County, Latinos and Hispanics make up well over half of all COVID-19 cases.
In Monterey County there is a similar trend. Latinos and Hispanics make up 60 percent of that population, but about 84 percent of hospitalizations and about 76 percent of deaths.
“Sadly, what the COVID-19 has really exposed is really the inequities,” said Paulina Moreno, the project director at the Thriving Immigrants Collaborative, part of the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County. Their mission is to enhance the quality of life, and advance the rights of the immigrant community.
“This isn't surprising. I think, you know, an overwhelming majority of the Latino population are workers in low wage jobs with very little access to health care,” Moreno said.
While helping immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic, Moreno says she hears so many stories of desperation. Like the mother whose daughter was ill with COVID-19 back home in Guatemala and none of the overwhelmed hospitals were taking her in.
“I heard her tell me, ‘I have to make a choice, whether I let my daughter die in Guatemala or I feed my children here in the U.S’,” said Moreno.
Then, there’s the English-speaking children of immigrants who are often forced to be cultural brokers, as Moreno calls them.
“There should be no reason why a child needs to be translating for their parents to get access to health care. That is unacceptable,” Moreno said.
Moreno says a child may not be able to interpret every single thing a health care provider is telling them.
She adds that there is a lot of information about the coronavirus in English. Although they are seeing more in Spanish, indigenous communities continue to be left out.
And then there are the families that feel they are limited in their ability to avoid being exposed to the coronavirus.
“They have no choice to social distance. Even distance within a household. Many of the families here in Santa Cruz County are impacted by poverty, live in high density,” said Moreno.
For Dr. Christina Gamboa, the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on the Latinx community is a result of communities of color not being included in medical decision-making as much as other communities.
“We work in a health care system that there's inequalities in services, inequalities and burden of disease differently, depending on your race and ethnicity. And we're seeing the same here with COVID,” said Gamboa.
She is the Director of Ambulatory Services and Women's Health at Salud Para La Gente, which has clinics in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
Right now, she says the biggest challenge is addressing the community fatigue of being in a pandemic. Gamboa continues to tell her patients about the importance of hand washing, wearing a mask and social distancing. She says as case numbers spike, people are having to make different choices about attending family gatherings or even going to work. And then feeling brave enough to speak with a doctor about that.
“They feel cared for. And they don't feel immediately terrified to the point where they don't want to seek care and that they don't want to be honest with you when they've said, you know, I did go to a baptism and I was potentially exposed,” said Gamboa.
For both of these advocates working in communities that are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, the solution lies in inclusion.
“As we continue to think about the recovery of California, we need to make sure it's inclusive of everyone, regardless of their immigration status,” said Moreno.
For Dr. Christina Gamboa treating just one member of the Latino or Hispanic community means caring for many more.
“When you're able to treat, discuss, involve, have a bi-directional conversation with one patient, particularly in Latinx community, that really does cede to a bigger community,” said Gamboa.
It’s information that spreads.