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Advocates, Lawmakers Call For Stronger Response to Coronavirus Impact on Latinos

a testing table for COVID
Part of Virginia's response to the coronavirus pandemic has been to establish community testing in areas that are being heavily impacted by the pandemic. (Photo: Roberto Roldan/VPM News)

Versión en Español

In a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam, the League of United Latin American Citizens is demanding that Virginia provide the community with more testing and free personal protective equipment, and hire more bilingual contact tracers and translators. 

The letter also calls for more Latino members in the state’s COVID-19 task force, and more bilingual and bicultural health officials: “The disproportionate and severe impact of COVID-19 on the Latino community demands greater precautions and immediate action of inclusion at decision-making levels.”

Latinos make up ten percent of Virginia’s population, but nearly half of the state’s COVID-19 cases. Demographic data has also found Latinos in Richmond are disproportionately impacted by the virus.

Five out of six Latinos work outside of the home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with many of them working essential jobs in agriculture, grocery stores and hospitals.

“We are really the community that is keeping America going,” said Sindy Benavides, the league’s CEO. “It means that more than 85% of the Latino community has to leave their house every single day to work and get paid, which means that we are coming more in contact with COVID.”

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy -- who’s also running for governor -- voiced similar concerns in a letter of her own, and called for coronavirus relief funds for housing insecurity to be made available to undocumented immigrants. 

“The rates of infection are alarming, and magnify the inequities that are staring us in the face,” Carroll Foy said in an email. “They stem largely from longstanding and systemic factors, such as disparate access to information, testing, and treatment.”

In her letter, she also calls on Northam to increase funding for outreach over Spanish-language media, which she said in her statement is “one of the most effective ways to disseminate resources.” Benavides says it’s a crucial way to get the word out.

"Making sure that we have a public awareness campaign is key so that the community has this information both in English and in Spanish,” Benavides said.

A spokesperson for Northam said in a statement the governor appreciates the input and has made health equity a top priority in the state response to the virus.

“Virginia was one of the first states in the nation to form a health equity task force, and we have worked diligently to provide culturally-competent and translated resources, PPE, and no-cost testing to vulnerable communities across Virginia,” said Alena Yarmosky, the governor’s press secretary.

*Editor's note: After publication of this story, Yarmosky emailed VPM to highlight a bilingual press conference organized by the state as an example of the ongoing work they are doing to create public awareness.