COVID-19 has had a significant toll on the Latinx community in Northwest Arkansas. Although the Latinx or Hispanic community makes up 7.7% of the Arkansas population, they have an infection rate of more than five times the white population, according to Arkansascovid.com.
The Latinx population in Arkansas is vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 in three significant ways: employment opportunities, health care inequities, and living conditions.
(Data by Mary Hennigan, Arkansascovid.com and Arkansas Soul)
“All of those structural and societal conditions impact a Latinx’s family’s ability to pursue healthy options…those difficulties are showing up in the number of cases for COVID-19,” said Arkansas State Rep. Megan Godfrey, who represents Springdale, a city with a 36% Latinx population.
Statewide, Latinx people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 at a rate of 306 cases per 10,000 people as of July 14. That far exceeds the rate for whites of 60 cases per 10,000 people or for Blacks, at 133 cases per 10,000, according to Arkansascovid.com. The most severely affected group are Pacific islanders or the Marshallese, who have contracted Covid-19 at a rate of 1,479 cases per 10,000.
One reason for the high rates of infection involves the types of jobs performed by Latinx workers. Members of the Latinx community are more prone to be essential workers who, in turn, are more exposed to the public and COVID-19 than their non-essential counterparts. In addition, the high poverty rates and other economic circumstances compel Latinx people to stay on the job.
“A big portion of the Latinx community are essential workers, there is no other choice for them,” said Fernanda Alcantara of Fayetteville, an essential worker at a Walmart Supercenter and an intern at Church World Service specializing on refugee and immigration policy. “Especially considering the undocumented Latinx community, they can’t apply for unemployment, so they have no other choice but to work.”
Cristian Lobe, a Latino essential worker at a Walmart warehouse in Bentonville, also stressed the need to work during the pandemic, “If I didn’t work, I could only survive for a short amount of time. I need to be at work because I am essential to my household and job,” Lobe said.
The lack of health insurance and general health care inequities in the Latinx community present other risks during the pandemic. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that compared to non-Hispanic white people, Latinx people are three times more likely to be uninsured. The lack of medical insurance is a significant factor is the lack of motivation for patients to see a doctor when sick due to expensive treatments and medical debt.
“There tend to be disparities and inequities in health outcomes in general, and we’re seeing that COVID-19 is no exception,” Rep. Godfrey said.
Another cultural factor involves Latinx households, which tend to be larger than the general population due to extended families, according to a report by the National Research Council.
A crowded household makes it difficult for residents to follow social distancing practices and guidelines, thus increasing their vulnerability to contracting coronavirus.