Orange County residents living in overcrowded housing throughout working-class Latino neighborhoods, while battling the rising wave of coronavirus infections, will get motel and hotel rooms from the state government so they can quarantine and isolate.
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The neighborhoods are home to many in OC’s essential workforce — warehouse workers, truck drivers, grocery store clerks, construction workers, mechanics and food industry workers.
“Look at the construction laborers, look at the food workers … our truck drivers, our cashiers,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a Friday news conference.
“Over half of the cashiers in the state are represented by the Latino demographic,” he said. “[The virus is] not exclusive to one segment of our society. It crosses all segments of our society, but it is disproportionate.”
Although the county has set aside money to help people who live in overcrowded housing isolate, Newsom’s announcement effectively boosts the stock of rooms available.
Statewide, the Latino community accounts for nearly 56 percent of all cases and over 45 percent of deaths, but make up 39 percent of the population.
In Orange county, Latinos have nearly 42 percent of all cases and over 39 percent of deaths, while accounting for 35 percent of the population. The largest share of cases, according to county data, is from an “unknown” group, which holds nearly 48 percent of cases.
Since the pandemic began, numerous infectious disease experts and sociologists interviewed by Voice of OC said Latinos have been hit particularly hard because they work the essential jobs and didn’t have the option working from home.
Dr. Daniel Chow, an assistant professor at UC Irvine, said Newsom is on the right track.
“It’s the right thing to do. The essential workers, if you think about it, these are patients generally in vulnerable socioeconomic situations and these are people that are taking care of us,” he said.
Many of the essential workers’ living situations, coupled with overcrowded housing, created two big hotspots in the county: Anaheim and Santa Ana.
At one point, the two cities accounted for 41 percent of the total virus cases, while they make up about 21 percent of the countywide population. The number has dropped to 36 percent of the total cases as community spread has worsened in other parts of the county.
Newsom also announced essential workers would get paid medical leave if they test positive from the virus and stepped up enforcement on employers around the state to ensure safety precautions and personal protective equipment are provided.
Chow also said the combination of the various issues low-income, Latino residents face exacerbates outbreaks, like in Anaheim and Santa Ana.
“A lot of frontline workers tend to represent lower socioeconomic groups and minorities and we also know that lower socioeconomic status and minority status represent lower health outcomes. So it’s kind of a double whammy,” he said. “These people that tend to live in denser neighborhoods, pass it on to their neighbors.”
“It is, by all definitions, a perfect storm.”
Meanwhile, the virus has now killed 556 people out of 33,358 cases, according to the county Health Care Agency.
There were also 652 hospitalized, including 215 in intensive care units.
Nearly 385,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people.
The Health Care Agency has teamed up with researchers from UC Irvine and Latino Health Access in an effort to slow the spread in Anaheim and Santa Ana.
Latino Health Access, a Santa Ana-based nonprofit community organization that focuses on increasing access to healthcare in working class Latino neighborhoods throughout the county, has 40 promotores — community health workers — that live in the most impacted neighborhoods throughout OC.
The promotores have been spreading information about testing, isolation and quarantine in their neighborhoods to help combat the spread.
The group also hosts a mobile testing clinic for the neighborhoods, which pops up in a different neighborhood everyday.
Abby Reyes, director of UCI’s Community Resilience Projects, said over 400 people began the four-week long contact tracing training Monday.
She said the trainees will be from various community groups, especially people who live in the neighborhoods, so the contact tracing corps will better understand the array of issues the communities face.
“So our efforts through this workshop series is to increase social cohesion and to honor and build community resilience. The bet we’re making is that it will take all of us to get trained up and connected with each other in ways that we just haven’t seen before,” Reyes said. “The divide between the coastal communities and the inland communities in Orange County, that’s what’s killing some of us.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data: