Utah Gov. Gary Herbert called the COVID-19 infection rate in the state’s Hispanic and Latino community “alarming” during a news conference Thursday aimed specifically toward that ethnic group, which has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
“The growth in the number of cases in the Latino community is alarming,” Herbert said in English after introducing himself in Spanish. “And as a state, we must address the disproportionate infection rates in the Latino community. These infection rates are contributing to the overall surge of the infection rate in our entire state.”
While the state has translated its regular news briefings into Spanish, this was the first news conference directed specifically at Spanish speakers.
Experts spoke only in Spanish when outlining the existing programs available and the health guidelines they should follow to prevent spreading the coronavirus. Dr. Tamara Moores Todd, emergency medicine physician at Intermountain Healthcare, stressed the importance of practicing social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands frequently, and isolating from others who are sick if it’s possible.
“The Latin culture is warm and social,” Moores Todd said. “And we ask that you stay unified, but physically separated when possible, to prevent further spread.”
Moores Todd said masks should be worn over the nose and mouth in supermarkets and other public places where it’s difficult to social distance.
Hispanics account for more than 43% of all COVID-19 cases in Utah while only being 14.2% of the total population. As of Thursday, 8,379 people who identify as Hispanic or Latino have tested positive, compared to 6,661 white people (34.4% of all cases and 78% of the whole population).
The state reacted slowly in addressing the pandemic’s effects on communities of color, particularly Hispanics, which may be one reason why cases have surged among these groups in recent weeks. The state’s Hispanic population is statistically more likely to live in multigenerational households and work jobs that they can not do from home. A recent outbreak at a Logan meatpacking plant was part of the sharp increase in cases among Hispanics.
Mayra Cedano, executive director of Comunidades Unidas, said those who are undocumented shouldn’t hesitate to get tested for COVID-19 because they wouldn’t be asked about their immigration status, which was one of the fears that community is known to have. She also pointed to various other services, including food banks, unemployment, assistance with rent payments, and others.
“We want you to know that we are working to decrease the barriers [and] facilitate the access and the process to access these services,” Cedano said.
Cameron Ruppe of Utah Occupational Safety and Health spoke about workers rights and that people can contact his office if they feel their rights are being violated. He gave the example of employees being forced to work if they are either sick or awaiting the result of a COVID-19 test.
Ruppe added that if an employee is making a complaint to his group, their immigration status isn’t germane to the organization’s inspections.
“All employees have a right to a safe workplace, independent of their immigration status,” Ruppe said.