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'We have been left to fend for ourselves' | Why is the Hispanic community getting hit harder by COVID-19 than most in Austin?

Austin Public Health reports the Hispanic community made up 51% of the hospitalizations last week, overrepresenting them in terms of their presence in the community.

AUSTIN, Texas — In Austin-Travis County, Austin Public Health reports the Hispanic population makes up 50% of the COVID-19 cases. 

Additionally, it reported the Hispanic community made up 51% of the hospitalizations last week. Dr. Mark Escott said that percentage overrepresents the community in terms of their presence in Austin-Travis County. 

"We have been left to fend for ourselves," said Paul Saldana, with the Austin Latino Coalition

He said Latinos are facing many barriers when it comes to COVID-19, including not having access to masks, hand sanitizer or internet to sign up for testing. 

"Austin being a city that prides itself in being a progressive city, it's sad and unfortunate that this is the reality and that there's so many in our community who just lack access to the basic fundamentals of supplies," said Saldana.

Frank Fuentes, who works in construction and is also the chairman of the US Hispanic Contractors Association, said there has also been an issue with messaging about COVID-19.

"We need a blueprint. We need a picture, and we'll follow that," he said. 

Fuentes said the safety on the sites has been clear. He explained that message is tough to pass on once workers head home, especially regarding how to stay safe there. 

"You have multi-generational members living in that household, but you also have interconnecting industries. We're interconnected in some way," said Fuentes, explaining that each family member may work in a different industry, meaning there are a lot of chances for someone to catch COVID-19.

Both Fuentes and Saldana said the Latino community represents a majority of the front line workers. They said if the essential Latino workers are taking care of the city, then why isn't the City taking care of them? 

Saldana and Fuentes said they've been working to get the community care. 

Meanwhile, Austin Public Health (APH) partnered with the City of Austin's Equity Office, the University of Texas Dell Medical School, and CommUnityCare to work off of comments from the public. The comments will help build a plan to address the issues impacting the Hispanic and Latino community.

The plan recommends focusing on four areas. 

  • Outreach, Prevention, and Communication

  • Testing and Contact Tracing

  • Access to Quality Clinical Resources 

  • Economic and Employment Support 

"These recommendations reinforce and build upon the substantive, ongoing efforts of countless community groups," said Stephanie Hayden, Austin Public Health Director, in a press release. "Community feedback is critical for ensuring we are capturing local efforts and priorities in the plan."

The City reports the developed LatinX strike team is also reaching out directly to organizations that with the Hispanic/Latino community to get ideas and input regarding ongoing efforts. 

Additionally, Austin Public Health reports that Hispanic testing is the lead demographic for testing. 

The US Hispanic Contractors Association, along with APH hosted, a free COVID-19 testing event on Saturday, Aug. 1, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Dr. Mark Escott, the interim health authority, reported on Tuesday that APH had the capability to test 400 people. He said 250 people were tested. 

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