In this episode, Dr. Karma Chávez interviews Professor Rogelio Saenz about his research documenting the impact of COVID-19 on Latinx communities in the US.
Dr. Karma Chávez and Professor Rogelio Saenz discuss the reasons why COVID-19 has hit Latinx communities so hard and why that impact has been disproportionate. They also consider what can be done to lessen the impact as well as where future research needs to go.
Resources / Related Links:
A Milestone of Misery: More Than 100K US Latinos Have Died From COVID-19
COVID-19’s Surging Impact on Latinos: A Glimpse Into August 2020
How a professor in Texas tracked the undercounting of COVID-19 cases among Hispanics, and why the Rio Grande Valley is hard hit
Karma R. Chávez (she/her) is associate professor and chair in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas at Austin | @queermigrations
Rogelio Sáenz (he/him) is a sociologist and demographer at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he is professor in the Department of Demography. | @RogelioSaenz42
This episode of LatinXperts was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Kate Whitmer and Ean Herrera.
- Rogelio SáenzProfessor in the Department of Demography at the University of Texas at San Antonio
- Karma R. ChávezBobby and Sherri Patton Professor and Chair in the Department of Mexican American & Latina/o Studies | @queermigrations
[00:00:00] you’re listening to Latinxperts, a podcast of Latino studies at the university of Texas at Austin. Latina experts features the voices of faculty, staff, and students, as well as friends and alumni of the department of Mexican American and Latina Latino studies, the Latino research Institute and the center for Mexican American studies.
Join us for this episode of Latinxperts.
Episode 17. Why has COVID-19 hit Latino community so hard? I’m your host Karma Chavez. And this summer we’re going to spend some time highlighting the important community-based research of affiliates of the Latino research Institute. [00:01:00] The youngest of the three arms of Latino studies at UT. Under the leadership of professor Deborah Barra Medina, the LRI mission is to provide the infrastructure for the creation and dissemination of quality information about issues affecting Latino populations in the region, state, and nation.
The LRI serves as a resource for communities, advocates, researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders. Our first guest in this series is Rogelio Saenz science professor of demography at the university of Texas San Antonio, where he was the Dean of the college of public policy for nearly a decade.
Recently he won the American sociological associations, Cox Johnson, Frazier award for scholarship and services, social justice. He’s also an affiliate of the Latino research Institute and has written extensively on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Latino community. In one piece, he discussed [00:02:00] how in April, we hit a horrible milestone as 100,000 Latinos in the U S had died from COVID-19.
The majority of these deaths occurred in California and Texas. Although on first glance, it would seem that the number of Latinos who have died is proportionate to their population percentage. Professor signs explains that the number obscures a devastating reality for Latino communities in the U S and I’m really excited to get to unpack some of these numbers with him here today. Professor Saenz, welcome to LatinxPerts.
I thank you very much for the invitation professor.
Definitely. And so I want to go ahead and jump in here with you, uh, into your claim about COVID disproportionate impact on Latino communities, even though it might seem otherwise at first glance. So, so why has the impact been disruptive?
Yeah, this has been, uh, the case that, uh, that we saw early on. And I haven’t been tracking down the, the deaths that were, that were taking place from late [00:03:00] March of 2020 into our early, um, uh, April. And one of the things that was really coming out was that Latinos were disproportionate. W, uh, overrepresented among people who were catching the virus, but they were disproportionately underrepresented when it came to, uh, dying.
Uh, so that kind of re uh, raised a red flag, but immediately that became very obvious that it was because Latinos are very much a younger population. So we tend to be disproportionately. Um, overrepresented among the younger age categories where the probability of death is lower. And once you control those, uh, differences for age difference.
Back in, uh, April or so. April, may of 2020. It was clear that Latinos were dying at rates that were about 3.4 times 3.5 times higher than the, than the white population. Those numbers have gotten. Uh, the disparities [00:04:00] are still great, but are somewhat smaller right now we’re talking about 2.3, 2.4 times higher deaths in the Latino community compared to the.
Well, and even if we’re only talking
2.3 or 2.5, I mean, it’s still very significant. So could you, can you still help us understand these numbers a little bit? And so Latinos are generally a lot younger overall or average age. Uh, and yet when we started to look at the numbers related to death, even though initially. One thing is you said it was sort of lower, um, Latino deaths actually are falling in those lower ages. And can you talk a little bit about, yeah.
And this is, uh, this all goes back to the fact that the Latinos have been disproportionately overrepresented among people that were on the front lines that were in essential industries, uh, that didn’t have the luxury of being able to work from home so that we find, for example, uh, [00:05:00] even right now, It’s close to 90% of, uh, whites who have died have been 65 years of age and older.
Uh, in the case of the Latino population, it’s about six right now. It’s about 60%. So you have all these younger Latinos who are dying. Uh, right now I think it’s something like 28% of all, Latinos who have died have been between the ages of 50 to 64. Uh, and that compares to about 10%, uh, for the white population.
And then you also find that even among people, less than 50 years of age, 11% or so of Latinos have died, uh, who have died have been less than 50 compared to about 2% for the, uh, for, for the, for the white population. So you really see those disparities that you see that whites who have died have been disproportionately older individually.
That are associated early on, that it was older individuals who are dying, but Latinos have been much more likely to be dying [00:06:00] at younger. And as part of that, as a result of. There’s exist, preexisting conditions. Is it stressful lives or is it lack of healthcare? All of those factors that, uh, that really have this confluence of factors that work together.
So we see, uh, the pre-existing conditions, uh, in the Latino community, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, et cetera. Uh, then we also. That Latinos are also the group that is, that has the highest rates of, uh, non of not having a healthcare insurance. So that contributes, of course, to the, uh, to, to the preexisting conditions, uh, were worst health outcomes and so forth.
Uh, and then you have issues having to do again with where people are working, the kinds of jobs that they have that are, that are, um, a greater risk of a contract in Dubai. And then greater degrees of poverty in our, in our communities where you [00:07:00] have people that are living closer to each other, and you may have, uh, multi-generation homes where you have children.
You have parents, you have grandparents all living under the same roof and in closer contact. So. When, um, the CDC, for example, was talking about that. If people caught the virus, they should, uh, they should self quarantine and stay in their room, use our own bathroom. But we know in the, in the Latino community and w as well as other communities of color, that is it possible to do, because there may be only one bathroom in the whole home.
There may be one or two bedrooms and so forth. So people don’t have that, that ability to be able to, to self-worth. Yeah. I mean, I think this is, you know, thinking about my own childhood home, seven people, one bathroom would have been no way. And, and I think there, I mean, I’m interested in what you have to say about the fact that I imagine, or at least I remember seeing [00:08:00] things that were.
Really engaging news reports. Op-eds, it’s seem that we’re engaging in a kind of victim blaming. And so it’s about Latino culture, the way Latinos live. This is why the impacts. And what would you say in response back to yeah, uh, there, it has to do with, uh, uh, conditions that I’ve mentioned in terms of poverty, the crowding, and so forth.
So there’s a lot of that, uh, Yeah, with that big victim blaming. And I did a number of, of interviews. And that is where, where I made sure that when reporters went there, that I was going okay, we can’t focus there because that all of a sudden, you didn’t say it’s the individual’s fault. So you shouldn’t be getting together, et cetera, templates.
When in reality you have all these conditions. That, uh, that put Latinos and other people of color in, in, uh, in harms way. And we know then, uh, that those kinds of social networks, social networks have always [00:09:00] been very important in the survivability of Latino communities, African-Americans Asians and, uh, as well as, um, as immigrant communities as well.
So they have always been very, very, very helpful, and we can see that in those kinds of situations, They also have these other kinds of, particularly in a pandemic. But one of the things that I kept telling reporters also is, again, that they shouldn’t focus on, on this in terms of the extended families that people had gotten together and so forth, because we saw in the white community, we saw, uh, that you had all these college students out there interacting with one another without masks, uh, and, uh, people that were.
Totally against wearing masks and so forth. And they were out there and there wasn’t none of that kind of pointing the finger and saying, oh look, it’s because they’re getting together drinking and so forth. That is causing deaths in the white [00:10:00] community. So I’m interested in what happens when we begin to parse out the different types of lucky.
Such as thinking about undocumented immigrants or Afro-Latinos or indigenous migrants, or even those from different Latin American or Caribbean countries. And I don’t know if you have that data, but, but if you do, what do those numbers tell us about COVID. Yeah. Uh, unfortunately the data are very limited and those kinds of questions we can address.
So, uh, the death data that we have have been for all Latino groups, the sub groups put together, and right now we can. Parse out, even deaths among females compared to males and so forth. So those kinds of questions I think, are going to be very important in understanding the full impact of the COVID. Uh, but that might be until after the pandemic and so forth for more data become available.
Uh, to address those questions. And I I’m particularly [00:11:00] interested in the breakdown, for example, with, um, immigrants and citizens, uh, and people born here in the, in the U S. I suspect that because, uh, immigrants were more likely to be on the front lines, uh, working in industry, such as meatpacking industries.
And we remember back in, uh, in April and May, 2020, whether it was just these major outbreak of death. And this is where we find immigrants. Uh, we also find them in agricultural kind of industries again that were, that were very hard to hit. And fortunately, once the vaccination became a baby, I was very pleased to see the state of California, for example, take this proactive kind of approach in going to the fields and making the vaccines available to agricultural workers.
Uh, because many of those obviously have a fear also of going to get a vaccine, particularly where we see the anti-immigrant, [00:12:00] um, uh, sentiments, the roundups that, uh, that the Trump administration did in. Well, and it makes me think what you just said that, of course it’s not just COVID-19 that kills, but it’s racism and xenophobia that kill also.
And I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about that relationship between COVID-19 and racism and xenophobia specifically, as it seems to be connected to Latinos, we kind of know a lot about it relation to Asians. Yeah. And so then yeah, a lot of, uh, attention. Uh, particularly with the racism that was directed against patients, but we see that in the, in the Latino community as, uh, as well, where if people were speaking Spanish, for example, you have all these social media kind of, uh, tapes and so forth that you see that, uh, Latinos and Latinas being called out for not speaking English and so forth.
I think that, uh, you see a [00:13:00] lot of the assumptions. Uh, that Latinos are immigrants that they don’t belong here. They, uh, they’re here, I’m documented and so forth. So all that perceptions that, uh, affects very much the treatment of, uh, of Latinos, the receptability into this country, what we’ve been here, generations of generations and generations and, and, uh, most of the Southwest, uh, land that belonged to the Mexico at, uh, at one point in time.
Uh, then I think that with that systemic racism also comes the fact that we see high levels of, um, percentages in the Latino community that don’t have access to healthcare, Texas. One of the states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid, even during the pandemic, which makes it difficult for people to get Obamacare.
I think that we see it in states like Texas, for example, where the leadership governor. Really, uh, didn’t protect the workers in this [00:14:00] country, in this state, as it was the push to open up Texas for business. And it was on the backs of Latinos, disproportionately. Uh, With the Latino community Latino workforce, there is this disposability kind of view and so forth that these are workers that are going to be feeding us that are going to put food on our table and so forth.
Uh, and, but there was little characters. Previously before the pandemic in terms of providing for the health care needs, uh, and, and other kinds of, uh, uh, amenities that are required. Yeah. And well, so I’m interested in your, you started writing about this very early, and if I’m not mistaken, you were one of the first people who was really digging into the numbers and really getting that message.
There, uh, a lot of that was published on Latino rebels. And I’m wondering how, if at all your work has been received or the [00:15:00] kinds of policy impacts, perhaps that it has had at least here in the state of tech. Yeah, I think, uh, uh, there are probably two sites that you see that, that I think, uh, very early on, um, this was, um, when I was doing the work and I was trying to get it out as quickly as possible to get that information out.
And that’s when, uh, early on with Latino decisions. Uh, west publishing, uh, Latino rebels is tied into that. So they, they were also distributing the work and the, um, feedback that was coming from the Latino community was really very appreciative and really opening eyes and people were spreading the information to make sure that people knew what was going on in the, in the Latino community.
I think in the, in. Here in Texas. I don’t, I don’t think that, that the big three, the Abbott Paxton and, uh, adept Patrick, because we, we, there was little concern that was coming across in terms of, uh, the deaths that were taking place in the, in the Latino [00:16:00] community. We remember what was going on here in San Antonio, for example, in July or so of where the numbers were.
Very high. Our hospitals were filled the valley. Uh, also we remember in, in June, July and August, where there were no efforts to try to, to control the situation there in terms of, from the leadership, uh, if anything, county judges were being, uh, were being discouraged and, and, uh, from, from, uh, imposing, um, uh, stay at home, uh, Laws locked down and things like that.
Uh, so there, I, I think that that was something that the leader texted leadership really didn’t want to hear. And you even see that it was. I think it was until I think it was about February or so February or so, where there was a commission that looked at [00:17:00] the impact of COVID and they simply mentioned the number of deaths to Latinos without any.
Any emphasis on the reality of what those numbers look like, that there have been only two states in the country where more Latinos have died than whites, Texas, and California are those two states. And the reports didn’t mention any of that. So the information I think. Publishing and so forth getting out there.
I think that people in the Latino community, I think progressive, uh, scholars and others in the community were picking that up. But, uh, unfortunately I don’t think that the power structure here in Texas was hearing that or, or wanting to hear it. Yeah. Yeah. Not surprising in some ways there. So I guess, um, we just have a couple of minutes left here in the show and you know, we’re moving now into a time.
Where numbers of new cases are down. [00:18:00] Hospitalizations are down deaths, nationally are trending downward. And of course, this is all in the United States. The global context is very different in this regard, but if we think about the research that you’ve done, what’s the big takeaway for you now in this historical?
I think the big takeaway really is the systemic racism that has been part of this country for so long. I think that the pandemic has exposed to it. A lot of that, and people that have been in denial, I think are coming around to saying that this is something that, that exists. And I take that the disproportionate impact that it has had in our community.
Uh, and I think that there have also been the lessons that have been. That in right now, as we have the vaccination that is there is available and so forth. And we still hear that, uh, people of color, including, uh, Latinos and African-Americans are disproportionately underrepresented among people who have been vaccinated.
And this of course represents the systemic [00:19:00] racism that we found in, in this country. African-Americans for long, have been totally denied. Healthcare and or experiments that were carried out on African-Americans. And so syphilis studies and so forth that put people at risk where there’s a distrust of the, of the government.
That’s the same that we find in the, in the Latino community, uh, as well. But we see, I think that some of those lessons learned is that if we look at the counties across Texas, we find that the highest rates of vaccinations, the people who have received the vaccinations or along the border counties, uh, so that places like you that’ll go count.
Places like El Paso, about 64, 60 6% of, uh, Latinos, uh, persons 12 and older have been vaccinated. You see some Panda panhandle counties where you see greater proportions of whites or in [00:20:00] east Texas, where there you find 24, 20 6% of a person’s 12 and older have, uh, have been vaccinated. Anything here it’s clearly shown.
The devastation that took place along the border areas. Uh, people losing loved ones and so forth. Even though that there’s continues to be kind of a concern that Latinos don’t want to get vaccinated, that you find that people are taking those precautions, that they lost loved ones where for many people with higher socioeconomic resources or with whites, it has been more theoretical when they think about loss.
Of people who have died, that it has not hit many as, as close as it has in the Latino community. Yeah. Well, thank you so much for all of this background and for talking through your important research with us, because this is just it’s crucial [00:21:00] research, especially for those of us here in Texas. And so, um, thank you so much for being here today, professor, thank you very much for the invitation.
Sure. Once again, our guest today was professor Rogelio. Uh, demography professor at the university of Texas at San Antonio. And I’ve been your host Karma Chavez, and this is Latinxperts. Hi, all this is Ashley. the communications associate for Latino studies. Thank you for listening to this week’s episode, make sure to check out the Latino studies Instagram page.
Follow us @LatinsotudiesUT to keep the conversation going.