Minority communities are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, according to demographic data from the Utah Department of Health. Early efforts to spread information about the virus failed to reach non-English speaking communities, but now several initiatives are underway to target hotspots in vulnerable communities, including one launching this weekend.
On Saturday at the Utah State Fairpark, the COVID Community Partnership — a coalition of state lawmakers and officials from the state health department and local governments — is hosting the first of a series of testing events for underserved communities. They’re offering free COVID testing to everyone who pre-registers, regardless of symptoms, as well as connecting anyone facing housing and food insecurity with resources.
State Sen. Luz Escamilla has been spearheading the initiative, which she said is focused on identifying virus hotspots and widespread testing, as well as stepping up data collection and contact tracing. Data would, for instance, not just track the ethnicities of people affected, but the kinds of jobs they have and their housing situations.
With Utah’s minority communities accounting for more than 40% of the state’s COVID-19 cases — while only making up about 25% of Utah’s population — Escamilla said those kinds of efforts are needed to fight growing clusters of the virus, like on the west side of Salt Lake City and West Valley City. And as new information comes in, they’ll shift.
“Right now we're talking about the Hispanic-Latino community,” Escamilla said. “But who knows? In two weeks, we may be talking about the African refugee community. Pacific Islander communities are also seeing hotspots in Utah County, for example.”
A key to the effort, Escamillia said, is working with community organizations that have long been on the front lines assisting vulnerable groups, such as Comunidades Unidas.
Maria Montes, the group’s community engagement coordinator, said the biggest concern she’s hearing now is how many undocumented people or families with mixed immigration status don’t have access to federal relief.
“Many of those folks are also frontline workers,” Montes said. “They're stocking up our shelves, they're working at meatpacking and manufacturing plants. So they're being exposed on a daily basis without receiving a stimulus check in the mail.”
For those facing food and housing insecurity now, Escamilla said there are funds available through Salt Lake County and the Department of Workforce Services, as well as meals and food packages offered through local school districts.
Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon