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Utah Minorities Make Up Smaller Share Of COVID-19 Cases Than In Spring, But Disparities Persist

An illustration of racially diverse people wearing medical face masks.
T. A. McKay
Latino Utahns make up a higher percentage of COVID-19 cases than the percentage of the population they make up.

Nonwhite Utahns make up a smaller percentage of the state’s COVID-19 cases than they did during the spring and early summer. But, health disparities still exist.

At its peaks in April and June, nearly 60% of new cases came from Latino Utahns, even though they make up only 14% of the state’s population. Now, the group accounts for about 20% of new cases.

Byron Russell, co-chair of the state’s coronavirus task force multicultural subcommittee, said efforts to shrink that gap appear to be working. Those include getting tests to people without insurance and working with community organizations to distribute emergency messages in different languages.

“Government is never really capable of providing the same credibility and messaging as community based organizations,” Russell said. “And that, to us, was extraordinarily important to make sure that people felt that they could listen to someone they trust.”

But, the mortality rate among racial minorities is still high. For Latinos, it’s about double that of white Utahns over the course of the pandemic. For Native Americans, it’s about four times that of white people.

Russell said that has a lot to do with where people live and is too systemic to change in such a short period of time.

“Because if you are in a community that doesn't have real access to first rate health care or maybe even healthy food or roads that are actually capable of getting you to hospitals,” he said, “The zip code in which you live determines the lifespan of your life.”

However, Russell said, the pandemic has highlighted those disparities that have existed for some time, and he’s hopeful that could lead to more widespread change.

As cases in Utah continue to break records, Russell urged people to take social distancing seriously and to think about the impact of their behavior.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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