While the novel coronavirus continues to spread over county and state lines, early research has shown the coronarvirus is affecting racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately across the U.S. Earlier this month, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced that in recent weeks, about a third of new COVID-19 cases in the Greenville area are from people who identify as Hispanic. In response, DHEC, health systems and community organizations have quickly moved to try and stop the trend.
“We know that some of these minority groups … nationwide and in South Carolina have had higher rates of illness and severe illness and unfortunately even deaths related to COVID-19,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, physician consultant at DHEC, said. “Not just with this situation but any time within subpopulations that we’re seeing rises of cases of COVID-19, it likely is related to people being in gatherings of large numbers of people.”
Many of these new cases have spread in single-family homes, which indicates that the virus spread between family members, according to Traxler.
There are other potential causes for the uptick in the Hispanic population as well. “People in [the Hispanic] community may not qualify for the economic incentives that a lot of us are benefiting from,” said Sara Montero, director of marketing and communications at the Greenville-based Hispanic Alliance. These individuals might not have access to unemployment benefits or to the stimulus check households received. For them, they must go to work where they might be exposed to the virus.
Families in these communities also tend to be bigger, according to Montero.
There are some people in the Hispanic community in Greenville who were also fearful of jeopardizing their immigration status or were concerned about the processes behind testing, for example, because they are undocumented. However, Montero said that there seems to have been some change, since more people are now getting tested.
“I do think our partners have done a really good job, expressing that this is not a place where you’re going to go and they’re going to be asking for your papers,” she said. Montero noted that word of mouth may have helped as well.
Beyond assisting people with translations of health information, the Hispanic Alliance has partnered with nonprofits like United Way, the Hispanic American Women’s Association and other groups in the area to be a resource as the pandemic’s effects ripple across communities. They’ve helped parents navigate virtual learning and have organized food distribution efforts.
Montero explained that the lack of information in Spanish has also harmed educating people about COVID-19. Translating the information into Spanish “takes a little longer,” she said. That extra time makes it “harder to reach out.”
To stop the virus from spreading more in Greenville’s Hispanic population, DHEC launched outreach initiatives with the Hispanic Alliance and other partners. The health department has focused on providing “culturally appropriate” messaging to these communities, Traxler explained.
Traxler said DHEC’s messaging is focusing on the necessary guidelines to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. “We’re just re-emphasizing the importance of physical distancing, the need to avoid gathering in large groups and staying apart … and then the importance of wearing the cloth face coverings.”
That seems to be working, according to Montero. “I do want to say that the way our partners are doing their outreach is making a difference and making people feel a little safer accessing these [resources].”
Those who need COVID-19 assistance in Spanish can call the Hispanic Alliance at 864-256-0760 or visit AlianzaHispanaSC.com or HispanicAllianceSC.com. For the latest information on the coronavirus, visit https://www.scdhec.gov/infectious-diseases/viruses/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19.