Doctors explain why younger Latinos are contracting COVID-19 in Sonoma Co.

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- The latest coronavirus surge continues to disproportionately affect low-income communities of color - But in at least one Bay Area county, the infection rate in the Latino community is much higher than the death rate, which is not the case throughout California.

So why is this and what does it have to do with vaccine distribution?

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Throughout California, Latinos account for 56% of COVID-19 cases and 47% of deaths, which is disproportionately high compared to the population share of Latinos, which is 39%.

But in Sonoma County, the numbers tell a different story. Latinos currently account for 67% of the county's coronavirus cases, but 24% of the deaths, which is actually in line with their 27% share of the local population.

Kate Pack and Jenny Mercado are part of Sonoma County's Department of Health Services epidemiology team. They say the county's essential workers, many of who are Latino, explain the numbers.

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ABC7 News has partnered with the Latino Community Foundation to present, "Race and Coronavirus: A Bay Area Conversation" a virtual and interactive town hall addressing the impact of COVID-19 on Latinos.



"Since our workforce tends to be in that 18-49 year old range, that's where we've seen the disproportionate number of cases," said Pack, who explained, "younger individuals tend to be less likely to have underlying conditions that can lead to complications from COVID-19."

Pack says only 4% of Latinos who contract COVID-19 in Sonoma County are 65 and older, which can also be explained by demographics.

"Typically the residents of residential care facilities for the elderly and for skilled nursing facilities tend to be white, non-Hispanic."

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Which raises concerns about equitable vaccine distribution, since many are expected to go to residents of skilled nursing facilities, which tend to house older, white Californians who can afford to pay out of pocket.

"So if you prioritize those facilities over other forms of long-term care, such as day programs, you're going to skew white," said Dr. Louis Aronson, a UCSF professor of geriatrics and member of California's vaccine prioritization advisory group.

She says a great deal of consideration is going into making sure vaccine rollout is equitable in the coming months.

"We need to think about age and death. But we also need to think about morbidity, illness, financial implications, and the occupations and living situations that put people, particularly people of color in this state, and particularly Latinx people at much higher risk."

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