APHA leader calls for greater access to COVID-19 resources for Hispanics

Date: May 18 2020

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U.S. Hispanics — who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 outbreak — need better access to culturally appropriate, science-based information on coronavirus, according to José Ramón Fernández-Peña, MD, MPA, president-elect of the American Public Health Association

Fernández-Peña is calling on health educators, agencies, organizations and others to work with communities to develop and share easy-to-access resources that will help Hispanics stay safe during the pandemic. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers Spanish-language information on COVID-19 online, it’s not the first place many people go for advice, he noted.

“A persistent problem is that there is a large segment of the Latinx community getting information that is not science-based,” says Fernández-Peña, who is director of health professions advising at Northwestern University. “Many get their information from informal sources and not necessarily from organizations such as CDC or their local health department.”

Hispanics can experience gaps in access to health information because of immigration status, stigmatization, income inequalities, language barriers and cultural stigma, according to Paulina Sosa, vice president of APHA’s Latino Caucus. Sosa is chair of the Caucus’ new Latinx COVID-19 Task Force, which is working to connect organizations that serve Hispanics with authoritative COVID-19 resources so that they can share lifesaving information in their communities.

U.S. Hispanics are among those more affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, making up an unequal proportion of coronavirus cases in some states. In Iowa, for example, Hispanics make up about 20% of COVID-19 cases, even though they are just 6% of the state’s population. 

Hispanic households that include multi-generational families are at an increased risk for coronavirus and can face more stress, Fernández-Peña says. An April survey found that half of Hispanics said they or someone in their household had taken a pay cut, lost their job or both because of the coronavirus outbreak.

While Hispanics work in many jobs, stretching through all segments of society, they make up a high percentage of the service industry workforce, serving in food, hospitality and retail. About 84% of U.S. Hispanics cannot work from home, the most of any population group. 

“They don’t have the luxury of phoning in their job or working via Zoom,” Fernández-Peña says. “They may work on a farm or grocery store. They can’t afford to stay away at their jobs, so they are at greater risk.”

Members of the media, celebrities and other influencers can help Hispanics stay safe by sharing science-based resources, particularly in Spanish, in broadcasts, online and in social media. They should also avoid spreading misinformation and verify facts before passing along something that does not come from a health official.

“It’s important that Latinx communities are empowered to implement safer behaviors to protect themselves, such as frequent hand-washing, wearing masks and following physical distancing recommendations,” Fernández-Peña says. “Working together, we can make that happen.”

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