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Coronavirus Is Hitting Utah's Minority Communities Hardest

Illustration of people wearing masks
Thirty-four percent of Utah's coronavirus cases are people of color, though they only make up 21.5% of the population statewide.

As demographic data emerges around the country about which people are most vulnerable, health officials are now seeing that the virus disproportionately hurts people of color, particularly those who live in dense, urban areas.

That’s true in Utah too, where at least 859 of the state’s 2,542 confirmed cases are people of color, according to data released by the Department of Health Tuesday. And for Latinx people, they make up more than 28% of the state’s cases, yet only 14% of the total population.

“We have always had health disparities in Utah and across the United States,” said Stacy Stanford, policy analyst at the Utah Health Policy Project. “It's really just that the coronavirus pandemic is the spotlight shining the light on all the cracks that have existed in our system for a long time.”

Stanford said the divisions are seen most in low-income or minority communities that are more likely to work in public-facing service positions. They're less likely to be able to work from home and self-quarantine, and often rely more heavily on public transportation to get around. Others might also have existing health conditions due in part to those disparities, putting them more at risk to suffer from coronavirus. 

Non English-speakers also started out with a major disadvantage as much of the early information about the virus and how to stay safe was only available in English, said José Borjón, Utah’s Consul of Mexico. 

“That was just late in the game,” Borjón said. “People were not clear on how to react. There was a lot of doubt, a lot of misinformation.”

That’s since changed, as has information surrounding the virus. But it can be hard to keep up, especially for those already struggling to make ends meet.

Another concern is the general fear undocumented immigrants have in seeking help from official sources, said Maria Guadarrama, also with the Utah Health Policy Project. She said that fear increased at the beginning of this year following the Trump Administration’s changes to immigration rules that make it harder for low-income immigrants to gain green cards.

“I think there is fear and I think, unfortunately, that fear is valid,” Stanford echoed. “This country, this state has a lot of work to do to make our neighbors who are undocumented still welcome and feel safe accessing the resources that could save their life.“

Going forward, both Stanford and Borjón said much of their focus will be on increasing awareness around the resources available to those in need. Stanford said, for example, that Medicaid and CHIP, otherwise known as food stamps, are open for enrollment year round. 

Borjón said while the Consulate does not have a major financial aid program, it can offer short-term assistance for medicine and housing. And for those showing any symptoms of coronavirus, regardless of whether or not they have insurance, testing is free.

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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