Sounding the alarm

Photo courtesy of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Community leaders and public officials warn of a rapid spread of COVID-19 among Latinos in Sacramento

Heading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Latino community leaders and Sacramento County public health officials on Thursday urged residents to avoid gatherings and wear masks to control a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“This is a public health crisis,” said Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra, who called for “extreme precautions.”

More than 350 Latinos have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since mid-May in Sacramento County, according to public health officials. Latinos had made up about 18% of total cases—lower than the share of the overall population. But in the past three or four weeks, they’re now making up about a third of cases.

As of Friday, Hispanics made up 34% of the 3,671 total cases and 7 of 69 deaths in Sacramento County.

In a virtual press conference conducted largely in Spanish, Peter Beilenson, the director of Sacramento County Department of Health Services, said that many infections have been traced to graduation and birthday parties with extended family, often spread by people who didn’t have symptoms.

“We know how important families are,” said Rachel Rios, executive director of La Familia Counseling Center, so people need to take care to socially distance.

Also, she said, Latinos make up a big share of essential workers who are at greater risk of contracting the virus, so their employers need to give them time off when they’re sick and employees need to get tested.

Beilenson said starting July 14, bilingual teams will be going out to small and medium-sized businesses to help them follow public health guidelines. The city is also working to hire multilingual contact tracers who can help track infections.

But Guerra emphasized that stopping COVID-19 “takes all of us.” For instance, a non-Latino might go into a Latino-owned business and spread the virus, he said.

“This is a public health crisis.”

Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra

The surge among Latino families is only part of a huge spike in the county overall. Beilenson said there have been about 1,000 cases in the past six weeks, compared to 2,000 in the three months before that.

And in recent weeks, more younger people are also becoming infected. Even if fatality rates are lower, they can still get very sick, with long-term health consequences, Beilenson said.

The county remains on the state public health watch list because of a 30.5% increase in the three-day average number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital, which is resulting in only 17% of ICU beds being available.

As a result, Sacramento County is one of 19 across California that have been ordered to close indoor seating at restaurants, movie theaters and some other venues/businesses again. That order took effect at 3 p.m. Thursday, reversing one that allowed indoor dining on June 19.

Statewide as of Thursday, Latinos made up 56% of the 248,235 cases and 42% of the 6,263 deaths.

And state public health officials are also warning about July Fourth gatherings.

“Any public or private events this weekend that include people who do not live together in the same household should not happen,” state Public Health Officer Sonia Angell said in a statement. “This includes family get-togethers.”

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