Despite making up less than a fifth of the state’s population, Latinos in Illinois have surpassed all other racial and ethnic groups in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases.
State officials reported 12,979 cases of COVID-19 among Latinos on Friday, more than 200 cases above the number reported for whites and 1,200 more than African Americans. A quarter of the state’s 56,000 cases do not list the person’s race or ethnicity.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said at a news conference Friday that crowded households in the Latino community are part of the reason why there’s a spike in cases.
“One of the beautiful things about the Latino culture is their family cohesiveness, and the situation where you have ... grandparents and parents and children living together, it means there’s going to be easier spread,” Ezike said.
Another factor is many Latinos work essential jobs and can’t afford to stay home, particularly those who are undocumented immigrants.
“A lot of Latinos are in the frontlines and can’t physically distance. It’s a privilege not all of us have,” said Dr. Marina del Rios, who practices emergency medicine at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago.
Del Rios said Latinos have been coming into her emergency department in large numbers for weeks, but she “didn’t have the numbers to back it up because we lacked testing.”
Latinos who primarily speak Spanish are also having a hard time communicating their symptoms with physicians, del Rios said, especially since hospitals have restricted or sometimes outright banned visitors during the pandemic.
“Prohibiting visitors means that when abuelita comes and doesn’t speak a lick of English, there’s sometimes no one there to translate for her,” she said.
“I’ve heard stories of people that have gone to the hospital and because they weren’t able to communicate how sick they are, they’re sent home without proper instructions as to when they should come back. And when they do come back, it’s too late.”
So far, 351 Latinos in Illinois have died from COVID-19, compared to 868 blacks and 1,022 whites. Latinos make up 17% of the state’s population, blacks are 14% and whites are 60%.
Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.