COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Shelby County’s Hispanic community

COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Shelby County’s Hispanic community

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - COVID-19 continues to have a disproportionate impact on communities of color, including Shelby County's Hispanic community.

Cases of COVID-19 are spiking in Shelby County, especially among communities of color, and federal health leaders have noticed.

A federal health team, including members representing the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and FEMA, made a trip to Memphis last week.

"We are seeing particular increases in cases and deaths associated with COVID-19 among communities of color here in Shelby County, especially African Americans and the Latin-X communities are disproportionately bearing the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Rear Admiral Jonathan Mermin, a medical doctor with the U.S. Public Health Service.

According to the U.S. Census, Hispanics account for just six percent of Shelby County's population, but 28 percent of COVID-19 cases.

"These differential rates take a health disparity and make it into an issue of health justice, but they are not inevitable," said Mermin.

The Hispanic community has unique challenges, from a language barrier to multi-generational households to immigrant fears of getting deported if tested.

"Whether someone's status is listed as documented or not is not part of what we focus on. It's not a question that we necessarily ask. We always ask people 'What is it that you need to be supported if you're in isolation or quarantine?'" said Dr. Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department.

Haushalter says the joint task force is working to improve outreach.

"We're looking at ways that we can get testing into that community quickly," said Haushalter. "We also need to rely on everyone to help get messaging to the community, particularly about masking, but also that there are resources available."

While it appears more Hispanics are getting tested, Mauricio Calvo, the executive director of Latino Memphis, says there are socioeconomic factors to consider.

"People are trying. I have respect for that. We are part of those conversations," said Calvo. "But the numbers show we have to do more."

A coalition of Latino leaders sent a letter to Gov. Bill Lee last month, asking for a robust plan to address coronavirus in the Hispanic community.

At a recent press conference, Lee and state health commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said they have been working with several organizations, including faith-based groups and community organizations, on outreach and would continue to do so.

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