ICU nurse Jason Shackleton attends to a COVID-19 patient at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton in 2020. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Chaminade High School

Column: COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Latinos and Black Americans as cases rise

COVID-19 has caused quarantining throughout the world and has devastated communities, families, social networks, and careers — some more so than others.

In the United States, there has been more than 29 million reported COVID-19 cases and more than 539,000 deaths, according to the New York Times. Latinos and Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, according to the Health and Human Rights Journal

This disparity has been prevalent throughout the United States, and has disadvantaged such groups who cannot leave their workplaces or communities. As cases rise in California, Black and Latino people have been infected with the coronavirus at a higher rate than white and Asian people, according to the L.A. Times.

In the first four months that COVID-19 was rampant in New York, the virus disproportionately killed Black and Latino people, especially those with underlying health conditions, according to the New York Times.

California became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. in December 2020. The stay-at-home order was extended in many of California’s regions, as the state recorded 66,811 cases in late Dec. 2020 — the highest number of new cases in a single day, according to the L.A. Times.

In Central and Southern California, hospitals hit 0% ICU capacity. In L.A. County, hospitals are so overfilled they had to put patients in gift shops and conference rooms, according to the L.A. Times.

Another issue of COVID-19 is that some people are beginning to ignore the severity of the virus, even with the danger being posed toward people of color.

The lockdown has lifted in most areas of the world, and although masks are mandated by most facilities, public interaction has visibly increased throughout the United States, seen in partying amongst younger populations and packed crowds at large gatherings, whether at beaches or bustling streets. 

People struggling financially cannot afford to visit the hospital with increased public presence at these locations as people have worked up the courage to see their physicians again. Nor can they afford medication they have been missing, or exams that are overdue. 

In the public stir over political events and COVID-19 news related to social distancing specifically, the needs of disadvantaged people to receive medication and hospitalization besides COVID-19 are being ignored. As medical facilities are being overwhelmed by bolder patients, those who are most in need continue to stay behind their doors. 

This issue is hitting medical facilities that offer low-income neighborhoods and their residents aid are being hit the hardest. With the impact of COVID-19 upon hospitals for causes other than the virus, many patients have been avoiding these facilities and their need for refills of necessary medication, and in doing so are jeopardizing their health.

The Free Clinic of Simi Valley, Calif. is a prime example of this concern. The Free Clinic offers free healthcare services for those who cannot afford the bills of larger hospitals, and still receive one-on-one physician exams and have access to nearly all the necessary medical equipment that larger associations have. It has no reliable income as it runs on donations, and grants given by local businesses/larger hospitals. 

The Free Clinic’s patients are significantly dominated by one group — Latinos, according to the Clinic’s Head Nurse Lupita Gonzalez. Nearly all the patients that come through its doors every day do not speak English, and few of the working staff at the Clinic are fluent in Spanish. Many of these patients do not know the consequences of their health conditions, and have declined the examinations the Clinic offers because of fear of the virus and their inability to cope with it due to a prevalence of preexisting health conditions such as diabetes that is, unfortunately, common amongst low-income populations that cannot afford to fulfill premium diets.

Their situation has only been made worse with the influx of patients supposedly “after” the pandemic that have started to arrive at hospitals — physicians now have to focus on this new group of patients as the absence of the people who really need medical help continues. Hospitals are already being overwhelmed, but not just with COVID-19 patients — people whose regular healthcare needs were put on hold throughout the pandemic are returning, much to the disadvantage of minority communities. 

This is not just an appeal for awareness about a dangerous issue, but a cry for help.

I volunteer at the Free Clinic and have observed this trend continue on a dangerous roll. These voiceless patients are being outshined by people newly arriving at hospitals for healthcare that should have been provided for debilitated groups throughout these communities long ago, and the increased health needs of people like those who arrive at the Free Clinic need to be brought to light.

If anyone you know in the area has medical needs, direct them to the Clinic, which has been preparing for and is ready for patients in need in the midst of the pandemic. Spreading awareness on social media has already begun to shed light on the issue, but advocating for the disadvantages presented to minority populations is more than important. 

The virus is as dangerous as it always was, and ignoring the issue and how it debilitates minorities cannot continue to be neglected in favor of the general public’s activities.