The Latino community has remained the group hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis in Marin, accounting for more than half of the county’s cases as the tally of infections has surpassed 10,000.
While Latinos make up 16% of Marin’s population, they account for 55% of the county’s 10,279 coronavirus cases in the pandemic, a disparity unmatched by any other ethnic group. White residents in Marin, by comparison, make up 77% of the county’s population and account for 33% of cases, county data show.
“In order for us to overcome this, it really requires a collective response,” said Omar Carrera, executive director of Canal Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for residents in San Rafael’s predominantly-Latino Canal area. “We need help and we need support.”
Marin’s Latino residents are catching the coronavirus at a higher rate than any other group primarily because many Latinos in the county work jobs in “essential” industries that cannot be done from home, including the food service and construction industries, said Dr. Matt Willis, the county’s public health officer.
During Marin’s summer coronavirus surge, which came as health officials began to lift restrictions on businesses for the first time since the initial lockdown, about 80% of cases were among Latinos, Willis said. Many of them became infected at work and then spread the virus to family members at home, he said.
During the winter wave of infections, which began to subside last month, transmission was more widespread throughout the county. But the pattern of higher transmission rates in predominantly Latino communities continued, according to Willis.
For many Latino families, the pandemic has presented “a crisis on top of a crisis,” Carrera said. Aside from the health impacts of the virus, families are reeling from lost wages amid a struggling economy.
“For families who were already living with complicated situations before the pandemic, this is catastrophic,” he said.
Latino residents who have lost jobs have in some cases had to “reinvent themselves,” finding work in other industries in order to bring in paychecks, said Maika Llorens Gulati, a San Rafael councilwoman who represents the Canal area.
“I know people that were working in restaurants and now they’re working in construction,” she said. “They have to bring money to their families.”
In an effort to address the pandemic disparity, San Rafael officials last month banned rent hikes for residences in the Canal neighborhood through the end of 2021. County officials have set a ban on residential evictions through the end of June. Such initiatives provide a buffer for residents who have been hit hardest by the pandemic’s economic toll, Llorens Gulati said.
“Little by little, it’s hope that the community really needs,” she said. “They need to hear that we all care about communities in the Canal.”
As the rollout of coronavirus vaccines continues, county health officials are making strides to ensure that Marin’s Latino residents are getting access to shots, according to Willis. The county has set up a vaccination clinic in the Canal neighborhood and officials have asked health care clinics serving low-income residents to sign patients up for appointments there. The vaccines at that site are reserved only for residents age 75 and older, Willis said.
“Those are the communities that may not be as connected to technology and all the other methods for accessing vaccines,” Willis said. “We want to make sure we’re removing any barriers.”