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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Legislators Highlight The Impact Of COVID-19 On Minorities

Busdriver with mask puts protecting gloves on his hands to protect himself from the coronavirus epidemic.
Busdriver with mask puts protecting gloves on his hands to protect himself from the coronavirus epidemic.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans make up 22 percent of COVID-19 related deaths in Florida, while only representing 18 percent of the population. An analysis done by scholars from Yale reveals Latino’s are nearly twice as likely to die of the virus as white people. Legislators spoke to WFSU about the health disparities, along with a health professional.

Tallahassee Democratic Representative Ramon Alexander recently posted a list of reasons on Facebook why African-Americans are dying at alarming rates.

“Right here in Leon County 51% of the COVID-19 cases are African American which is going to directly correlate to the death rate as we move forward," Alexander said.

He says it’s because of how America is designed and raises the issue of systematic racism

“When you look at every facet of our country from access to high-quality healthcare, access to education, access to homeownership across the board there have been significant challenges for communities of color," Alexander said. "Because of systems designed for them to fail.”

Other minorities also suffer from similar problems. Orlando Democratic Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith says Hispanic communities are suffering immensely.

"Here in Orange County for example we’ve seen that while 32% of our residents in Orange are Hispanic, they represent 37% of COVID deaths in Orange," Guillermo Smith said. "In Osceola, it’s worse where Hispanic represent 55% of the population but they’ve accounted for 67% of COVID deaths.

Guillermo Smith says one simple thing that can fix the issue is closing the language gap.

"Spanish language communication is very important. Though many if not most Hispanic residents in Central Florida and throughout the state speak English it's many who don’t and language access is a major problem," Guillermo Smith said.

He says one reason the Hispanic community is at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 is because of their living condition, and jobs.

"You look at the fact that they are front line essential workers, you look at the fact that they have underlying medical issues, that they’re exposed to people at home, that language access is an issue there are things that we can do to improve on all of those fronts," Guillermo Smith said.

Smith adds that oftentimes the jobs they hold don’t offer paid sick leave. Which leaves a worker to decide whether to miss out on making money and stay home sick, or go out and make money while sick. He says since the pandemic started some companies have taken notice and extended paid sick leave, but he says more is still needed.

“Also even expanding Medicaid in the state of Florida. There are so many folks who are now newly uninsured because of the fact they lost their job and along with it their health insurance," Guillermo Smith said. "So it’s a moral imperative for our state to expand Medicaid."

Dean of Allied Health at Florida A&M University Dr. Cynthia Harris says COVID-19 has provided somewhat of a magnifying glass on issues that were already prevalent.

"When you have pandemics such as this as I think Dr. Fauci talked about, a shining light on some historical, societal issues that transcend the health issues itself," Harris said.

Harris says the problems impacting minority communities make it more difficult to simply follow social distancing guidelines.

"These populations tend to live often times as multi-generational households, grandmother lives in many of these families and other family members," Harris said. "And so you know again it is hard to social distance when you have factors such as that."

And she notes minorities, especially African Americans, often don’t have a great trust in the medical system.

"Some of the unethical medical practices that have been done on African Americans for instance over the years theirs a distrust of the healthcare system," Harris said. "All of us are familiar with Tuskegee and that is only just one of several instances."

Harris says the only way to truly fix the problems is to take a broader look at the society in which they exist.

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