New study shows Utah Hispanics have a harder time distancing during the pandemic

New research from the University of Utah offers some insights into why Utah’s Hispanic residents have been hit harder by the coronavirus than other groups.

The information, presented in the state’s second Spanish language news conference on the pandemic, comes as the state grapples with persistently high cases of the virus.

As of Wednesday, Hispanics account for 40.5% of Utah’s COVID-19 cases, or 12,519 infected people. Three weeks ago, Hispanics made up 43% of all cases. Hispanics make up 14.2% of the state’s population.

Utah’s white residents comprise 78% of the state’s population, but just 37.7% of the cases, or 11,652.

Daniel Mendoza, a professor at the University of Utah, recently completed a study in Salt Lake County focused on social distancing efforts; impacts on residential traffic and air quality; and the prevalence of COVID-19 in neighborhoods. Mendoza focused on ZIP codes and found that ZIP codes with a higher minority population and lower-income households had almost 10 times as many COVID-19 cases.

“We believe an important factor that drives this [data] is that lower-income households are generally employed at essential jobs and therefore can’t stay at home,” Mendoza said.

The study also found that the volume of residential traffic in poorer ZIP codes decreased by 10-15% following the “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive issued by Gov. Gary Herbert, while richer, and largely whiter, ZIP codes saw a decrease of 50%.

Staying home and working remotely, or weathering a period of unemployment, is easier for people in higher-income areas.

“A lot of different factors exist that cause higher cases of COVID-19 in minority and low-income populations, with the biggest being the need to continue working during the pandemic,” Mendoza said. “These jobs generally impose a higher risk because, while an office job may only require close contact with 10-15 people in one day, a cashier at a grocery store can interact with 10-15 people in an hour.”

Mendoza also said some minorities aren’t able to take the COVID-19 test due to lack of time or resources.

“In that case, getting tested is a luxury, but it’s a necessary luxury,” Mendoza said. “We must remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is not the first, nor will it be the last, global health crisis and we must think of how to better prepare for the next one and how we can protect those who are most vulnerable.”

Mendoza reiterated the importance of not only wearing a mask in public, but providing masks to low-income households and those who cannot afford it.

Frank Trivino, of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, and Silvia Castro, member of Utah’s COVID-19 Task Force and on the Multicultural Subcommittee, also spoke during the Spanish-language briefing Wednesday, and mentioned programs that may help, such as the new pandemic-electronic benefit transfer, which will provide a one-time payout to families with students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Mexican Consul José Borjón said since the pandemic started the Consulate in Salt Lake City has initiated a special COVID-19 information phone line, aside from their emergency line. That number is 801-359-4766.

Borjón has also assisted those who have made their way back to Mexico throughout the pandemic, although it hasn’t been many people, he said. He has also worked closely with vulnerable populations, including DACA recipients.

And the consul has also been aware of Mexican citizens in Utah jails. There are 159 Mexican prisoners in the state and his office has identified three sick with COVID-19 in Cache County and six in Washington County.

As of midday Wednesday, Borjón was aware of 14 Mexican deaths in Utah during the pandemic.

While Borjón is responsible for Mexicans, a lot of the Consulate’s resources are available and helpful to Utah’s entire Latino community.

“Our demographic is exposed day to day at work, so we’re interested in knowing and, if necessary, report any labor abuse, where they may not be giving your protection — face masks, gloves,” he said. “I’m asking the community to help us so we can also support those reports before the Labor Commission or Department of Health or the county.”