As COVID-19 sweeps through the nation, damaging lives and livelihoods, minority communities – specifically Latino/Indigenous and Black – have been hit the hardest. Boulder County is no exception.
“There are many possible reasons for why we are seeing higher proportions of Hispanic folks in Boulder County represented in our COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. At the heart of these disparities is systemic racism, which we know from research produces institutional barriers to things like preventive medical care, healthy food, safe and stable housing, quality education, reliable transportation, and clean air which impact health outcomes,” says Emily Payne, the epidemiologist for Boulder County Public Health.
Minority groups are disproportionately impacted
With the mounting number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the country due to COVID-19, the evidence is clear: minorities are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
According to a recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans have been hospitalized for COVID-19, and are dying, at rates considerably higher than whites. Data collected by the city of New York finds that African Americans and Hispanics are dying at twice the rate as white people from COVID-19. The mayor of Chicago recently announced that African Americans comprise one third of the city’s population but account for approximately 72% of COVID-19 deaths in the city.
Minorities in Colorado have been more negatively impacted by COVID-19 than whites. According to the latest data from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Hispanics, who comprise about 22% of the state’s population make up 33.6% of COVID-19 cases, and 16.15% of deaths. African Americans who represent just 4% of the population, comprise about 7% of cases. See graph.
“We know that Hispanic/Latinx individuals in Colorado are also more likely to have some chronic diseases known to increase the potential severity of COVID-19… These chronic conditions are closely linked back to the institutional barriers mentioned,” says Payne.
“Also, Hispanic/Latinx folks may be more likely to be essential employees who were required to report to work in-person even during the stay at home orders, which may have put them at higher risk of exposure to someone ill with COVID-19,” she adds. In Boulder County, approximately 13.8% of the county’s residents are Hispanic yet they account for 44.3% of COVID-19 cases and 17.4% of deaths.
While it is difficult to find data on the exact numbers of undocumented persons in Boulder County and in Colorado who have been impacted by COVID-19, we can assume that given that almost 70% of undocumented workers in the state are from Mexico, they are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
In addition to the negative health impacts they are likely to face, they are not eligible for state or federal financial assistance. In fact, US citizens married to foreign persons were also disallowed stimulus support.
Impacts on minority groups
Teresa Garcia, the Executive Director of ELPASO, “Engaged Latino Parents Advancing Student Outcomes,” shares that the Latino community in Colorado has been hit hard.
“The coronavirus has impacted the Hispanic community in ways that we were not prepared for. Many of the parents we work with from the Hispanic community, particularly those who are low income, work in fragile jobs. Many of them have lost their jobs and their incomes. For Hispanics who work in restaurants, cooking, washing dishes, they are immediately impacted. And for Hispanics working in touristic places in the mountains, they are also losing their jobs,” says Garcia.
Chana Goussetis, the spokesperson for Boulder County Public Health, says that, “challenges these groups may face to access resources includes fear of losing current benefits if they get additional support, fear for their physical safety if their status is revealed, language, reading level, transportation to get to services/resources, internet access to get services online… and limited access to child care so they can continue working outside of the home.”
While there have been fewer cases of COVID-19 among Asian Americans in the country, the API-American group has been experiencing the detrimental impacts of COVID-19 in a different form: hate crime incidents.
Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University recently collaborated with several Asian American advocacy organizations to develop an online web reporting forum called “Stop AAPI Hate”. The goal of the site is to track the incidences of verbal abuse, physical assault, shunning, and other forms of harassment against Asian-Americans as a result of COVID-19.
In just one week, between March 18 and 26, the site recorded more than 650 reports of incidences of discrimination targeted against Asians in the country. And, by April, more than 1,500 Asian Americans had reported incidences of racism related to the pandemic.
Dr. Jennifer Ho, a professor of Ethnic studies and the Director of the Center for Humanities & the Arts at the University of Colorado Boulder says that, “anyone calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” is deliberately misnaming the actual disease and going against the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO)”.
The city of Boulder has even seen anti-Asian racism related to COVID-19. Dr. Ho shared an incident, which occurred in March on the campus of CU Boulder, when a white person apparently walked out of a performance of the rock musical “Spring Awakening,” claiming that he was leaving because there were “Chinese” students in the performance who were not wearing masks.
impacts on minority-run small businesses
Minorities, as workers or as owners of small businesses, contribute significantly to the economy in Colorado. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), there are just over 600,000 small businesses in Colorado, of which 85,809 are minority-owned. As workers, the state demographer’s office estimates that from 2015-2020, nearly 7 out of every 10 entrants to the workforce in Colorado are Hispanic. The Geoscape report (2017), “Hispanic Businesses & Entrepreneurs Drive Growth in the New Economy,” finds that between 2012 and 2017, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States increased 31.6% compared to 13.8% for all firms, making them key contributors to the economy.
Peter Salas, the Chair on the Board of the Latino Chamber of Commerce in Boulder, believes that for many Latino/a-led small businesses, one of main obstacles they have faced during the Coronavirus pandemic is that their businesses do not have formal relationships with financial institutions.
“Accessing the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is difficult because they are told to go to your financial institution and do your applications there. There are a lot of trust issues around accessing government funding. There are a number of Latino-run businesses that work primarily with cash and they do not go through the officials banking structures. As a result, they have had a difficult time to access small business loans,” says Salas.
“We at the Latino Chamber believe that any national legislation should include U.S. Citizen children in the emergency cash benefit program regardless of parental immigration status,” he adds.
Federal and state relief programs exist to support small businesses, as a net benefit to the economy, yet many minority business owners struggle to access these federal loans.
“As for minority business owners, if they don’t have the resources and access to information from other professionals, such as bankers, accountants, and attorneys, then they may not be aware of the resources that are out there to help. Also, the information from the state and federal government changes and is very limited to all business owners,” says Sal Quintana, owner and attorney at Quintana Law Firm, LLC.
Resources of minorities
For Teresa Garcia, there is hope, as she sees individuals and organizations in Boulder County coming together to support the Latino community, and other minority groups, during this challenging time.
“In Boulder county, we see a lot of agencies, organizations, and funders coming together to say – we are going to bring money to make sure that low income people have money to pay the rent. Money has come from individuals and benevolent funders. There has been an amazing response,” says Garcia.
Local organizations such as Sister Carmen Community Center, Community Food Share, EL PASO, El Comite, Centro Amistad, Community Foundation Boulder County, the Latino Chamber of Commerce for Boulder County, Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA), OUR Center, Suma Latina, Peak to Peak Alliance, among others, are some organizations that have been providing assistance.
“Anyone is welcome to come to us and request assistance as long as they live in Lafayette, Superior, Louisville, or within the Boulder County Valley School District area. We are definitely seeing an increase in need right now. We’ve got a drive thru food bank Monday to Friday. We are also doing over-the-phone financial assistance,” says Suzanne Crawford, the CEO of the Sister Carmen Community Center.
In terms of financial resources for small businesses, Boulder County has recently pulled together a Small Business Relief Grant Program, with funding of $400,000 to support local businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And, in Longmont, organizations such as the Longmont Downtown Development Authority, the Longmont Economic Development Partnership, and the city of Longmont have joined hands to form the “Strongmont Fund.”
Colorado-based organizations such as the Colorado Latino Leadership Advocacy Research Organization, the Colorado Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Mi Casa Women’s Resource Business all provide information in Spanish about resources for individuals and small businesses impacted by COVID- 19.
The Latino Chamber of Commerce in Boulder has been working tirelessly to support the Latino business community by partnering with the other Chambers, economic development groups, and non-profits in the area. “Our role is to get information out, to advocate for as best we can on behalf of the Latino business community and to assist other groups working in the community,” says Peter Salas.
The COVID-19 pandemic will force us to ask hard questions about racial inequality in our county, state, and country. At the heart of disparities in access to healthcare, safe and stable housing, transportation, and job opportunities, is structural racism, which makes minority communities more vulnerable to COVID-19.
“If you look at the kind of racial inequities that are happening right now because of COVID-19, none of this is new,” says Dr. Jennifer Ho.
She adds, “The same thing is happening with Native American populations, like the Navajo nation. We’re seeing these health disparities and the greater number of fatalities, but that is because these health disparities and financial inequities existed pre-COVID-19.”