JACKSON — One group is taking the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak in Teton County, and it’s not young people.
Though Latinos make up just 15% of the county’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 estimates, they account for 32% of local COVID-19 cases since March. That number has been even more pronounced in recent weeks, rising to 57% of the cases from Aug. 25 to Sept. 7.
“That is very overrepresented for the Latinx community,” Teton County Director of Health Jodie Pond told county commissioners Aug. 31.
If the coronavirus affected each demographic equally, the percentages of overall cases would match each group’s share of the population. Across the country, however, communities of color have been hit harder by the virus, showing both disproportionate case rates and a higher level of severe cases.
“Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19,” reads guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the outbreak many people were able to begin working at home, which drastically lowers their risk of infection. Stanford University economist Nicolas Bloom said in June that 42% of Americans had shifted to working full-time at home, while 33% were not working.
That left roughly a quarter of Americans working in physical locations, the bulk of them being “essential workers,” those who stock grocery store shelves, are first responders or work in health care. Since their jobs require that they are in public meeeting with people, essential workers have been at higher risk since the outbreak started.
That is true for many in Jackson’s Latino community.
“They are definitely working in the service industry, and so maybe their risk is their job,” Pond said.
Service industry jobs in particular can have low wages, meaning employees cannot miss work for fear of finding themselves in dire financial straits. That can lead them to go to work even if they are worried about contracting the coronavirus.
“We are seeing that in the immigrant community, but I think it’s expanded even in the larger community,” said Isabel Zumel, director of education and outreach at One22. “Just people wanting to do whatever they can to to bring in an income while that’s still available.”
Jackson’s feast-or-famine seasonal economy means workers and employers must take advantage of summer tourism to put themselves in good economic standing, but it’s not the only factor that may be driving up COVID-19 cases in the Latino population. Because many families live in multigenerational households, Zumel said, even those who can quarantine face exposure from family members who may be out working service industry jobs.
Crowded living situations can amplify the outbreak if family members bring the virus home with them. To counteract those forces, the Teton County Health Department is working with One22 and La Familia Counseling Services on outreach and education.
The coalition has hired “mobilizers,” Zumel said, who can provide information to members of the Latino community on the resources that are available to them. There has been some confusion about testing, so the group hopes to identify gaps in information or services in the coming weeks.
Given that cases in the Latino community may have a higher propensity to spread, and that they often mix with others through work, the group sees addressing questions and lowering that overall case rate as essential.
“That’s what we’re really trying to see if we can get our arms around,” Zumel said. “Because, honestly, in a pandemic situation like this we are all interdependent.”