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Your Health Matters: Latinos hit hard by COVID-19

Coronavirus

The CDC reports 17% of coronavirus deaths are in the Latino population.

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Coronavirus is affecting minority communities at a disproportionate rate nationwide. 

The Centers for Disease Control reports 17 percent of those who’ve died from the disease are Latino. Here in Florida, the numbers for this population are alarming. 

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The impact is being felt by doctors at Tampa General Hospital. TGH Dr. Elimarys Perez-Colon has seen Latinos fight for their lives in the COVID Unit and ICU at a much higher rate than any other ethnicity.  

“We have collected data from about 3,000 patients that are COVID confirmed in Hillsborough County. And 38 percent of those patients are in fact Latino,” said Dr. Perez-Colon. 

To put it in perspective, Latinos account for 20 to 25 percent of Hillsborough County’s total population. Dr. Perez-Colon points out three factors as to why this community faces more challenges: Their genetics, the fact that they make up a large portion of essential workers and they live in multigenerational households.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, 20 percent of the United States’ essential workers are Latino, from custodial to construction and food service. That makes it difficult to quarantine at home.  

 “A lot of the grants and a lot of the funds you were able to get, you had to be open for five-plus years so we didn’t qualify for a lot of those,” said Rosy Ramirez, who owns Caribbean Twist in West Tampa.  

Caribbean Twist had been open for just one year when the coronavirus started, wreaking havoc and threatening its stability. Ramirez had no other option than to keep serving. She knew it was a risk but her food line already had plastic barriers separating staff and customers so that helped ease some safety concerns. 

“We still had rent to pay, the utilities were adding up, yeah, you had to keep going,” said Ramirez.  

“Working and making a living is absolutely imperative but it’s also something you can’t do if you’re not healthy,” said Dr. Perez-Colon. 

It becomes even more dangerous when you have many family members living under the same roof. 

“Minimizing the times that they go out to get groceries or gas or anything that is essential and designating someone who is going to do so not everyone in the household is going to get exposed,” said Dr. Perez-Colon. 

Genetics and a predisposition to certain diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma poses a larger battle for recovery. Dr. Perez-Colon shines a light on health care inequities for this group, which often dismisses illnesses and avoids doctor visits. A lack of health insurance or their immigration status can often spark fear.  

“It’s just important that you just show up before it’s too late,” she said. “They can’t turn you away. They definitely have to give you the care that you deserve. There are laws in place for that.”   

She reiterates the constant message we’ve heard since the pandemic began: Wear a mask, wash your hands, disinfect your home often and keep your distance from others. That’s a challenge for such an affectionate culture.  

It’s been hard for Ramirez to stay socially distant from her family and clients but she knows it’s for the best.  

“It’s so weird. You’re so used to saying ‘hi’ to someone by giving them a kiss on the cheek and now you can’t even give them a handshake,” said the restaurant owner.  

It’s a simple step she knows can help save her business and the lives of those she loves. Ramirez is sticking to strict rules to continue serving her traditional dishes. 

“We have so many people trying to come in here without a mask, that we up a sign outside the door that say if you don’t have one, we’ll provide one, but you can’t come in here without one,” she said.  

Getting tested for COVID-19 and getting immediate care if you’re sick is critical. You can find a list of testing sites open in the Tampa Bay area on WFLA.com. If you need to see a doctor but don’t know where to go, the clinics listed below offer services at low to no cost.  

  • BRIDGE Health Care Clinic: 13330 USF Laurel Drive in Tampa, 813-974-2201
  • Judeo Christian Health Clinic: 4118 N. MacDill Avenue in Tampa, 813-870-0395
  • Brandon Outreach Clinic: 517 N. Parsons Avenue in Brandon, 813-654-1388

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