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What's Behind Mecklenburg County's High Hispanic COVID-19 Count?

Courtesy Cristina Bolling
Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter
Monica Del Cid has been a longtime leader in Charlotte's Guatemalan community, and she works long hours these days delivering food to Latino families suffering from COVID-19 and those in economic need.

Here’s a startling statistic: Latinos only make up 14% of Mecklenburg County’s population but 38% of its confirmed COVID-19 cases. Most are younger adults. The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter's managing editor Cristina Bolling recently looked at how Latinos are coping with COVID-19.

Credit Courtesy Charlotte Ledger
Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter managing editor Cristina Bolling

Lisa Worf: So first, why is Charlotte's Latino community bearing the brunt of Mecklenburg County's coronavirus infections?

Cristina Bolling: Really, there's four main reasons why. The first is that so many tend to work in high-density essential jobs. So, jobs that did not take a break during this period. And a lot of them are construction and landscaping and different industries in which people are working together closely at job sites. They may be riding together in vehicles and just really having a hard time doing those jobs and doing the social distancing.

Related to that, there is a lot of economic instability in this population. Largely, a lot of folks in this population don't have extra cash laying around to stay out of work for a period of time. So they tend to maybe shrug off some symptoms at first if they are not feeling well, hoping it's a cold or a virus or something, just to be able to keep putting food on the table.

Also, you know, a lot of folks live together, multiple families in a home or maybe multiple generations at home. Some of the folks that I spoke to, there would be three, four or five people in one home that have coronavirus because there just wasn't a way to distance themselves from each other to avoid getting it.

Finally, a lot of folks are finding they have a harder time accessing medical care. And I had some Spanish speakers texting me and asking how can they find out where to go for a testing site? And you have to understand that this information is just not as easy to find in Spanish-language media and communication methods as it is for folks who speak English.

Worf: As far as cases in the Latino community, I mean, this is the case in Mecklenburg County, but also throughout the state and in the nation, too?

Bolling: That's right. Not all counties are reporting ethnicity data, but of the ones that do, those numbers are even more sobering than Mecklenburg County. Statewide, Latinos make up about 9.6% of the population, but according to state numbers that they have, about 45% of the COVID cases.

Worf: One of the people you followed was Monica Del Cid, who spends several days a week dropping off meals for families dealing with COVID-19. What struck you as you followed her?

Bolling: Monica is a leader in the Guatemalan community here in Charlotte. And I've run across her before for her advocacy for individual families going through hard times and just community issues. So what struck me is how much time she spends going through these lines to get food at local food pantries. So she will start in the morning, map out a day in which she'll spend a few hours in several different lines in her car, snaking through church parking lots to get groceries for these families. And it just struck me how hard it is to access that in some cases.

And again, the folks working these food pantries are are doing an admirable, incredible job. But the need is so great. She spent several hours going through one line at a Seventh Day Adventist church, a Hispanic church in East Charlotte. And it took several hours that cars lined up for miles on East W.C. Harris Boulevard to go through and get their food. And when you got up to the church, you understood why: Because they were getting entire cartloads of actually very healthy groceries.

Again, this is a population that a lot of times can't afford to be out of work. But sometimes I think folks are having to make this choice of, "Do I wait in line for several hours and know that my family will eat this week?" So that really struck me and her dedication to doing that for these families that can't. Maybe they don't have a car or maybe they aren't strong enough to go through a line like that in order to get groceries.

Worf: And then you have the hesitation about going to work when you may be working right side-by-side with many people, too.

Bolling: Exactly. Right. I did speak with several folks who have COVID and also several who just kind of are fearing the virus. And yeah, there is that sense of. "Is the person next to me sick?" And maybe, you know, the person next to you is actually sick. But for this population too, we have to remember that there's a lot of fear in speaking out, that there are sometimes worse things than chancing the virus to them -- losing jobs that they may not be able to recover. So they a lot of times are trying to figure out what to do if the person next to them is sick. Do they take a chance and keep drawing that paycheck or do they try to remove themselves from that situation but don't know how they're going to eat if they do that?

Worf: Now, county health officials say they're increasing their outreach to Latino-owned businesses, local organizations, to spread information about prevention and safety. But when you have these situations where you can't adjust your work environment or your home situation, that puts you at risk. How helpful is that? And what is helpful?

Bolling: Well, I think that probably more could be done with educating the community about testing sites and that kind of thing. The county is pushing out information to employers and things like that, and they are partnering with different Latin American organizations. But I think that it's just such an uphill battle. There are a lot of people who, you know, get their information from different sources. And it's just really hard to push out information in a way that is getting through to everyone who needs to receive it.

Worf: That's Cristina Bolling with the Ledger. Thanks, Cristina.

Bolling: Thank you for having me.

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