On March 3, 2020, health authorities confirmed what many feared: what started as a short trip to a nursing home in Washington state became the first case of COVID-19 in Wake County. A few days later, on March 11 of that year, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus crisis a pandemic. How are we doing three years later?
The start of the pandemic
Faced with an increase in cases of this new disease, on March 26, 2020, Mecklenburg County declared the first stay at home order. On March 30, Governor Roy Cooper signed a similar order for all of North Carolina.
The streets were empty, businesses closed, and unemployment rates skyrocketed in a matter of a few weeks.
Despite efforts to contain the virus, the first victims arrived. By April 8, there were 3,426 people with COVID-19 in 90 of the state’s 100 counties. Additionally, there were 53 deaths associated with the new coronavirus, and among those fatalities was the first Latino to die from the virus. From that point on, things began to spiral out of control for Latinos.
The pandemic and Latinos
Before the pandemic, large numbers of Latino workers were in jobs considered essential to our economy: construction, food processing plants, factories, cleaning personnel, farm workers, etc. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these activities did not allow for remote work or social distancing, which led to increased infections among Latinos.
To make matters worse, the official information in Spanish was scarce. Confusing messages and bad translations, among other problems, were evident at the beginning of the pandemic, which created some confusion in the Latino community.
In early July 2020, Latinos accounted for 45% of all COVID-19 cases in North Carolina, despite only representing 9.6% of the population.
The federal government offered economic assistance programs but excluded thousands of immigrants, exacerbating the crisis. If a family had an undocumented member, they would not qualify for many of these programs. For these individuals, taking time off work was not an option.
Immunizations: hope and language disparities
In mid-December 2020, COVID-19 vaccines arrived in North Carolina, but in this first phase of distribution, Latinos were overlooked once again. As of February 22, 2021, Latinos accounted for only 2.5% of all people who received this vaccine in the state.
Faced with pressure from various groups that criticized this disparity, state authorities began to produce information in Spanish (not just translate it). In addition, they finally began to approach the community members where they were, and they established vaccination centers in places such as churches and flea markets. What happened when they invested in this community? Latinos responded, and they had (proportionally) the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state.
How are we doing three years later?
Today, three years after the first case in North Carolina, 3.46 million people have contracted COVID-19, including 317,000 Latinos (accounting for 13% of the cases). During this time, 28,346 people have died from the new coronavirus, including 1,329 Latinos.
Today the United States is the country with the most COVID-19 cases in the world (103 million), as well as more than one million deaths.
The pandemic highlighted the deep disparities that persist in North Carolina. At the same time, it is a clear example that if the authorities put aside their prejudices and reach out to the Latino community, they respond positively, which benefits us all.