OGDEN — That there’s a higher concentration of COVID-19 cases in the Latino community here doesn’t come as a surprise to Taylor Knuth.
“It’s kind of shined a bright light on some of the health disparities we already knew existed,” said Knuth, leader of a local task force formed to investigate ways to address the imbalance.
Still, the figures for Weber and Morgan counties, like the state overall, are dramatic. Though Latinos account for a much smaller share of the population in the two counties than non-Hispanic whites, they account for more COVID-19 cases, 42.9% of the total versus 41.5%, according to Weber-Morgan Health Department figures. By contrast, Latinos account for just 10.9% of the those living in Weber and Morgan counties, while non-Hispanic whites account for 85.2% of the residents here.
“It’s highly concerning,” said Arlene Anderson, another member of the task force, informally dubbed the Multicultural COVID-19 Task Force for Ogden.
The task force came together in response to the disparity, aiming to craft a plan to raise awareness among Latinos about COVID-19 to counter the outsized impact. They’ve put a focus on trying to get Spanish-language informational material to the Latino community, but still, Anderson says more needs to be done. “We’re not even there yet. We’ve not done enough,” she said.
That Latinos, African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 here and across the nation isn’t a new revelation. But the new Weber-Morgan Health Department figures, released Tuesday, show for the first time that more Latinos have been affected than whites though they’re a much smaller share of the overall population. The trend is the same across the state, with Latinos accounting for more cases than non-Hispanic whites, 6,522 or 42.5% of the total compared to 5,279 or 34.4%, according to Utah Department of Health figures.
The state formed a special multicultural task force in response and the Ogden task force headed by Knuth represents the local response. Knuth leads the Ogden Diversity Commission, Anderson is active in the local Latino community and other representatives come from the Weber-Morgan Health Department, the city of Ogden and the Midtown Community Health Center, among other entities.
Among the local initiatives is augmenting the quantity of informational material available in Spanish. Latinos account for more than 30% of the population in Ogden alone and many are immigrants, speaking chiefly Spanish. Knuth said Midtown has committed some $50,000 to aid in COVID-19 communication efforts geared to Latinos, with the city providing $30,000.
But even if there are bilingual materials, efforts to distribute them are hindered by the scaling back of activities at some of the places where Latinos gather, like churches, as a precaution. And Spanish-language fliers and videos, by themselves, won’t reverse the disparity.
“It’s not going to solve it,” Anderson said, noting that many Latinos are in service and other related jobs that put them in the community, increasing the risk of infection. “If somebody has to go to work, they have to go to work.”
Still, Knuth noted other ongoing efforts, such as the planned distribution of protective garb like face coverings to the Ogden-area Latino community, possibly later this week or early next week. And groups like the state and local task forces aren’t alone. Intermountain Healthcare, which operates McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden and other healthcare facilities in the state, has augmented its efforts to reach out to the Spanish-speaking population.
The health system has created a Spanish-language website with COVID-19 information and it’s launched an informational campaign on Spanish-language TV and radio stations.
“We have also been able to increase our presence in Spanish media through interviews, announcements, press conferences and Facebook live events where we have provided Spanish-speaking Intermountain physicians and other caregivers during these COVID-19 times,” said Brad Gillman, spokesman for Intermountain Healthcare. The system’s COVID-19 hotline, 844-442-5224, has representatives who can speak Spanish, he added.
The reasons for the COVID-19 caseload disparity among Latinos and other people of color runs the gamut, according to advocates for the Latino community. That many work in the service sector means they will potentially be exposed to more people, increasing the risk of contracting the coronavirus, as Anderson noted. She also noted that many Latino households are large and multigenerational, with kids on up to senior citizens, making it tougher for those who do contract COVID-19 to effectively quarantine.