(Austin Public Health)

Latino residents, who make up around one-third of the Travis County population are overrepresented when it comes to confirmed COVID cases, hospitalizations and reported deaths.

Fourth-generation East Austinite and community advocate Paul Saldaña is frustrated.

He has heard from many Latino residents that they are washing disposable face masks and bathing in their backyards to avoid exposing their family members to COVID-19, which they fear exposure to while working essential jobs.

As a member of Austin Latino Coalition, Saldaña has lobbied city officials to respond, but he feels there is still more they could be doing.

"At times, I feel like I live in a third-world country," he told Austonia.


Same storm, different boats

While Austin has seen its mid-summer surge deflate, the Latino community continues to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Latino residents, who make up 34% of the Travis County population, account for 52% of cases, nearly 60% of hospitalizations and 50% of deaths, according to Austin Public Health data. At one point, in late May, seven out of 10 hospital patients with COVID were Latino. The positivity rate among Latino residents who were tested last week is nearly 15%, compared to around 9% for the overall population.

Austin's confirmed COVID cases are more concentrated on its east side, with the highest number of cases in the 78744 ZIP code, where a majority of residents are Latino.

(Rational Anarchy/Reddit)

These disparities are not unique to Austin. But while the outcomes for Black residents have improved in recent weeks, the city has had little success closing the gap for Latino residents, who make up more than a third of its population.

"It's hard for us to correct decades of disparities that these communities [of color] have faced," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said on Wednesday.

Many reasons

There are a number of reasons Latino residents are more at risk of contracting COVID—and suffering worse outcomes—said Dr. Rene Salazar, assistant dean for diversity and a professor of medical education at Dell Medical School.

They are more likely to lack access to care, whether because they are uninsured or cannot afford monthly premiums and copayments; be undocumented and avoid seeking out care for fear of legal consequnces; face language and other cultural barriers that make getting care more difficult and less satisfying; and live in multigeneration households.

"Coming through the door, you're not able to social distance potentially," CommUnity Care CEO Jaeson Fournier told Austin Mayor Steve Adler during a Facebook live on Thursday. "And then there's a higher rate of transmission that occurs."

Latino residents are also overrepresented among essential workers, Salazar said, and undocumented residents do not qualify for stimulus funds or unemployment benefits, which further tilt the playing field.

"They really don't have an option [not to work]," he said. "It becomes a question of survival."

Other communities of color also struggle with historical and present inequities. But while Black Austinitess faced worse outcomes earlier in the pandemic, recently their share of the confirmed caseload and the hospitalized population has fallen. Disparities among Latino patients, however, remain.

"The biggest differences between the two communities are around language and immigration status," Salazar said.

Paul Saldaña—top row, second from left—and other members of the Austin Latino Coalition have met virtually with city leaders, including Mayor Steve Adler, to discuss how to address COVID-19 outcome disparities.

(Paul Saldaña)

What is being done

To address these disparities, the city has made funding available for rental assistance and other basic needs, introduced bilingual media briefings in June, hosted mobile testing events in hard-hit communities and convened a volunteer task force.

But Saldaña, who is a member of the task force, feels this is not enough, especially six months into the pandemic.

To address the disparities in COVID outcomes for Latino patients, he said the city needs to expand access to testing, so that residents without email addresses are still able to register for a free appointment and those who are unable to take time off work during the day are not shut out. Other priorities include increasing distribution of masks and financial assistance for those communities that are hardest hit.

"This is not just a Latino issue," Saldaña said. "When you buy your groceries, who's checking you out? Who's putting the produce [out] and who's restocking all the shelves? It's probably someone from our community, because we're overrepresented [among essential workers]. So you should be concerned."

Want to read more stories like this one? Start every day with a quick look at what's happening in Austin. Sign up for Austonia.com's free daily morning email.

(Austonia staff)

Barton Springs pool will reopen on Saturday after being closed since late June due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Barton Springs and Deep Eddy pools will reopen this Saturday on a modified schedule after being closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keep Reading Show less

It's difficult to imagine running any modern business without some sort of conferencing capability, whether it's video, web or audio-based. While video conferencing has become an integral part of daily operations for many businesses, many companies still don't have a go-to service for interacting with clients. As a result, participants have to navigate the less-than-ideal 'which service should we use' conversation before each meeting, adding further complexity and distracting from the purpose of the discussion.

Keep Reading Show less

Gov. Greg Abbott help a press conference Sept. 24 to announce new legislative proposals.

By Jolie McCullough

At a campaign event in Dallas on Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a string of new legislative proposals to raise penalties and create new crimes for offenses committed at protests.

Keep Reading Show less
(Realtor.com)

Elijah Wood's Austin home goes on the market.

It may not be The Shire, but Elijah Wood is selling the next best thing: his 130-year-old classic Victorian home in Austin.

Keep Reading Show less
(Pexels)

Rapid antigen tests are popular because they return results in 15 minutes. But positive results are considered "probable" rather than "confirmed," per CDC guidelines.

When the University of Texas at Austin hosted its first home football game of the season, administrators required student attendees to be tested for COVID-19 before entering the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Of the 1,198 students who were tested that day, 95 returned positive results, according to a university spokesperson. But none of these cases were logged on the Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard or counted toward official totals.

Why?

Keep Reading Show less
(Laura Figi/Austonia)

Hiram Garcia, on the right with a white mask, talks to a protester after he is shoved to the ground for live streaming.

After a Kentucky grand jury ruled not to charge two of the three police officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor, protesters across the country took to the streets, including at the Texas Capitol and Austin City Hall to stand against the decision.

Keep Reading Show less
Jordan Vonderhaar/The Texas Tribune

Forty-one states have passed laws allowing online voter registration; Texas is not one of them.

By Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff

When Jarrod Stringer updated his driver's license address in 2014, the Texas Department of Public Safety website asked if he wanted to register to vote. He clicked yes and thought he was registered. That fall, when he went to vote in San Antonio, he was denied. According to the system, he had never registered. It was past the registration deadline, so he couldn't vote.

Keep Reading Show less