Fear may be a factor driving COVID-19 disparities in the local Latino community

Written by on June 30, 2020

Fear may be a factor driving COVID-19 disparities in the local Latino community

By Genesis Ortega

June 30, 2020

City Councilwoman Cynthia Mota. Photo provided by Genesis Ortega / WLVR

In most of the U.S. Latinos make up a greater share of confirmed coronavirus cases than their share of the population, according to an NPR analysis of tracking data.  

In the Lehigh Valley, local officials and those who work closely with the undocumented community say fear could be deepening those disparate health outcomes. 

WLVR’s Community Correspondent Genesis Ortega has the story. 

Jose Campos is a local immigration attorney in Allentown. He says the virus is hitting the Latino community hard. Nearly every day he nearly hears about someone else who’s tested positive. 

Jose Campus, a local immigration attorney in Allentown.

“And when one person gets it, the entire household gets it almost in every case. And a lot of times they’re afraid even to go to the hospital…and so they just tough it out at home. It’s a very scary  situation,” said Campos. 

City Councilwoman Cynthia Mota says she’s hearing the same from her constituents in Allentown. She says she talked to a family of five that all contracted the virus but they told her they didn’t feel safe going to the hospital. 

“Some of them don’t have documents; they are undocumented. And it’s kind of hard when you have any kind of sickness to go to the hospital because you do not know if they’re going to call immigration on you. And that’s where the fear stems from,” said Mota. 

Yannery’s Laguardia, an Allentown notary who serves the Latino community says at least four of her clients have died from coronavirus, including an undocumented resident. 

Yannery’s Laguardia, an Allentown notary who serves the Latino community. Photo provided by Genesis Ortega / WLVR

 “Bueno afectados, yo te diria que clientes, clientes fallecidos tengo cuatro. Que hayan estado afectados de salud, bastantes, bastantes de diferente empresas.” [Translation]: “Well, of those who are infected, I’ll tell you that of my clientbase, 4 of my clients have died. Of those who have tested positive, I have many… many clients,” said Laguardia.

Laguardia says many of her clients have warehouse jobs. They haven’t stopped working since the pandemic began because state guidelines consider them “essential workers”. 

She has an elderly client who says he contracted the virus from his wife, a warehouse worker. He did go to the hospital for treatment, and now he’s recovered. 

But for the most part, Laguardia says people who get sick from coronavirus are treating it at home with traditional remedies like hot tea and lemon. 

Dr. Tim Daly is the Medical Director for Neighborhood Health Centers of the Lehigh Valley, a clinic* (community health center) in the heart of Allentown’s Latino community. Daly says the fear of deportation is real. 

Dr. Tim Daly, the Medical Director for Neighborhood Health Centers of the Lehigh Valley. Photo provided by Genesis Ortega / WLVR

“So I think that’s a theme that we have seen within the last three to four years, certainly that, uninsured patients who may be undocumented immigrants, have really waited and not gone in to the ER when they may have otherwise,” says Daly. 

Daly says that mild cases should be managed at gome under quarantine but…

 “If somebody is dealing with symptoms like respiratory distress or difficulty breathing, those patients should definitely be seeking emergency ‘in hospital’ care. Without close monitoring, those people could easily be at risk for going into respiratory distress or pulmonary failure at home.”

Lehigh Valley Health Network is opening eight community clinics this week in Allentown to try to increase access to care for people without health insurance. 

Patients will be eligible for sliding fee discount, including the undocumented community. 

Councilwoman Mota wants people to know they can go to the hospital without fear of being deported. 

 “It doesn’t matter if you have documents or if you are undocumented, they still will help you. So, the help is there, but the reality is, this is a population that has been lied to for so many years, and the lack of trust is there,” says Mota.

But apart from the issue of trust, public health officials say housing inequality, working conditions and poverty are at the root of disparate health outcomes for the Latino community. 

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*Editor’s note to clarify: The current term is community health center.  NHCLV is a nonprofit Federally Qualified Community Health Center, as designated by the federal Health Resources & Services Administration  in D.C., and is presently the only full-qualified community health center in the LV region.


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