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COVID's invisible victims

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In April, two major news stories broke that assumed new trends in COVID-19 victims. The first is the “new kind of patient” according to CNN: young, previously healthy, and now sick or even hospitalized with COVID. The number of these patients has been increasing nationwide, especially in Michigan. The second story pertains to young children who have lost parents to COVID. And as the Journal of the American Medical Association – Pediatrics recently explained, these children will need social and psychological support for years to come.

At first, these stories don’t appear to have any racial-ethnic relevance. The reason that they do, though, lies in how they’ve risen in the headlines. Their emergence in the national COVID narrative is an erasure of Latino victims, who have fallen overwhelmingly into these categories from the start.

Healthy, working-age young adults severely stricken by COVID, young children who have lost parents to COVID: These things are nothing new to the Latino community. They just haven’t received this level of attention until they started to seriously invade the white population.

A close examination of Latino COVID patients since the start of the pandemic reveals a picture that doesn’t match that of the “typical” COVID victim—elderly, incautious, or immunocompromised. Rather, it was young Latinos who were getting sick and dying from the start, infected in places that they had no option of avoiding.

Many were essential workers, infected in the restaurants or factories where they were worked out of economic necessity. Others were infected by their own family members in close-quartered, multigenerational homes.

In Illinois—where our organizations, the Latino Policy Forum and Illinois Unidos, have been sounding this alarm since June 2020—we have watched in horror as these very people filled up our hospitals and died at unfathomable rates.

Approximately 10 percent of the Illinois population aged 20-59 is Latino, yet Latinos account for 40 percent of COVID deaths in persons aged 20-59. Seventy percent of all diagnosed cases in Latinos were in that young age range, which is the range most likely to include parents raising young children.

But these trends were never unique to Illinois. A similar pattern is observed in national data. According to the CDC, Latinos are overrepresented in the number of deaths in persons aged 25-54.

Currently, Latinos in Illinois have only received about 12 percent of total vaccine doses administered, despite accounting for about 18 percent of total cases in the state. The white population, meanwhile, has received about 64 percent of doses administered despite accounting for about 40 percent of total cases. This has played a big role in the continuing growth of cases among Latinos, especially those aged 20-59.

Despite these high rates, the young Latino COVID patient has never been the center of attention. But when that same patient emerged in states such as Michigan—only white—it became a national story.

Every single child who has suffered such an immense loss must be reached and helped. As with all research and analysis surrounding COVID, we must examine how these children fare with a racial-ethnic lens. Still, the JAMA-Peds article fails to mention the impact of COVID and the needs of Latino children.

Now consider that Latinos have disproportionately low rates of health-insurance coverage and participation in public social safety-net programs. We are nowhere near well-positioned to provide these young children with the additional resources to cope with their trauma that they need—that they deserve.

These Latino children and young adults are COVID’s invisible victims. They deserve the headlines as much as they deserve consideration in the policy and resource-allocation decisions surrounding COVID-19 for years to come.  v

Sylvia Puente is the President & CEO of the Latino Policy Forum, the only policy nonprofit in Illinois dedicated to equity and justice for the Latino community.

Marina Del Rios, MD, is an emergency physician. She was one of the first people in Chicago to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

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