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With figures showing that COVID-19 is disproportionately hitting Utah’s communities of color, particularly Latinos, Gov. Gary Herbert has added a multicultural subcommittee to the state’s coronavirus task force.
“These are uncertain and trying times for everybody and probably all Utahns are feeling the pinch,” Herbert said at the state’s daily coronavirus news briefing, “but we have found by data that we have some more significant problems in our minority groups.”
Nubia Peña, director of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, will lead the panel. Byron Russell, co-chairman of the Utah Multicultural Commission, and Ze Min Xiao, a member of that commission and director of the Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office for New Americans, will serve as co-chairs.
Russell said the panel’s full membership will be announced soon.
Calling into Thursday’s briefing from Philadelphia, where she was with family, Peña said her office surveyed people who live and work in Utah’s multicultural communities.
“Our findings show that many people in these communities are worried about their basic needs, including food, housing and employment,” she said.
The Utah Department of Health has reported that racial minorities, especially Latinos, represent a disproportionally high percentage of the state’s COVID-19 cases.
On Thursday, the department announced another person has died in Utah from the coronavirus, bringing state’s death toll to 35. The latest fatality is a man over age 60 from Salt Lake County who was in a long-term care facility, the county’s 20th COVID-19 death.
The state recorded 167 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, an increase of 5% that brought the state’s total to 3,612. Another 13 patients were hospitalized with symptoms of the virus, for a total of 301.
The state also reported another 4,167 tests completed, which means 80,627 people have been tested in Utah.
Based on Thursday’s case count, 1,208 cases of COVID-19 statewide were people who are Hispanic or Latino. That’s 33.4% of all COVID-19 cases overall in Utah — and the Latino community makes up 13.9% of the state’s population.
According to UDOH, 2% of the cases were among Pacific Islanders, who make up 1.5% of the state’s population.
Another 1.8% of COVID-19 cases are among Utah’s African American community, which roughly corresponds to the community’s percentage of the state’s population, at 1.7%.
Two groups are underrepresented. Only 2% of the state’s COVID-19 cases are Asian Americans, who make up 3.4% of the state’s population. Similarly, 1% of the state’s cases are people in the American Indian and Alaskan Native communities, who make up 1.8% of the state’s population.
In UDOH’s tally, 9.6% of the COVID-19 cases have their ethnicity listed as “other,” and another 9.4% are “unknown.”
Herbert cited language and cultural barriers as one factor for minority groups being hit more by the pandemic. Information about the coronavirus has been translated into a dozen languages, he noted.
“We’re concerned," he said, “with making sure that they understand and get the information necessary for them to survive during these troubled times.”
Herbert was asked at the news briefing if people of color would be added to another committee — the one that’s consulting with the governor about when to reopen Utah businesses and other venues.
“I believe that a rising tide raises all boats on the pond,” Herbert responded. “And so, as the economy recovers, everyone will have a chance to participate in that recovery.”