It all started with a brief trip to a long-term care facility in Washington state. After returning home to Wake County, the traveler did not feel very well. Following a series of tests, on March 3, 2020, health authorities confirmed what many feared: it was the first case of COVID-19 in North Carolina before the pandemic.
A few days later, on March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the new coronavirus crisis was a pandemic.
The cases in North Carolina began to rise, which led Mecklenburg County to declare a stay-at-home order on March 26. On March 30, Governor Roy Cooper signed a similar order for the entire state.
The streets began to empty, businesses began to close their doors, and unemployment rates skyrocketed in a matter of weeks.
Despite efforts to contain the virus, the first victims emerged. By April 8, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) counted 3,426 people with COVID-19 in 90 of the state’s 100 counties.
In addition, there were 53 deaths due to complications associated with the new coronavirus; among the fatalities was the first Latino death from COVID-19.
From that point on, things began to spiral out of control for the Latino community.
North Carolina Latinos in the pandemic
Before the pandemic, there was a large presence of Latino workers in certain jobs considered essential to our economy such as construction, food processing plants, factories, cleaning personnel, and farm workers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, these jobs did not allow for remote work or adequate social distancing, which increased infections among Latinos.
In early July 2020, Latinos accounted for 45% of all COVID-19 infections in North Carolina (of cases in which ethnicity was known), despite the fact that they only represent 9.6% of the population.
The federal government launched economic relief programs but excluded thousands of immigrants, which exacerbated the crisis.
If a family included an undocumented person, they did not qualify for various assistance programs such as the first CARES Act, food stamps (SNAP benefits), or unemployment insurance. For these individuals, taking time off work was not an option.
At that time, official information in Spanish was scarce. At the beginning of the pandemic, confusing messages, poorly done translations, and other problems created confusion in this community.
How are we doing a year later?
Today, almost a year after the first case, the numbers are still high. As of February 22, 845,000 people in North Carolina have contracted COVID-19, 115,810 of whom are Latino.
Across the state, around 11,000 people have died from the new coronavirus, 766 of whom are Latino.
Today the United States is the country with the most COVID-19 cases on the planet, with more than 28 million cases and over half a million deaths.
Vaccines: Hope and disparities
In mid-December, the first COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the state. However, in the first phase of vaccine distribution, Latinos were once again neglected.
As of February 22, Latinos accounted for only 2.5% of all people who have received this vaccine in North Carolina.
There is still much to be done to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Without a doubt, the authorities must increase their efforts to reach out to essential Latino workers through education, as well as prevention and vaccination.