Latino community group seeks to add voice to coronavirus conversations, return-to-work concerns |

Latino community group seeks to add voice to coronavirus conversations, return-to-work concerns

Alex Sanchez, co-founder Voces Unidas de las Montanas
Evan Semon/courtesy photo
Valley View COVID-19 Cumulative Stats 6/04/2020
  • Specimens collected thru Valley View: 1,724
  • Positive results: 63
  • Pending results: 33
  • Patients admitted with COVID-19 since outbreak began: 19
  • Patients discharged: 15
Grand River COVID-19 Cumulative Stats 6/04/2020
  • Specimens collected thru Grand River Health: 1,164
  • Positive results: 46
  • Pending results: 16
  • Patients admitted with COVID-19 since outbreak began: 2
  • Patients transferred: 2
  • Patients discharged: 0

Garfield County COVID-19 statistics

Cases to date (including all clinics): 159

Most recent 14-day onset of new cases (May 18-31): 14

Deaths: 2 (none since April 9)

Cases by ethnicity — Hispanic/Latino: 42.1%; Non-Hispanic/Latino: 57.9%

Source: Hospitals and Garfield County Public Health

Many area Latino workers do not feel particularly safe returning to work as coronavirus public health restrictions are relaxed, but also feel they have little choice if they’re to keep up with rent and put food on the table.

A recent survey conducted by the Roaring Fork Latino Network resulted in 84 responses among Latino residents from Aspen to Parachute.

It’s admittedly not a scientific sample of the estimated 30,000 people of Latin American heritage living in Garfield County and the Roaring Fork Valley, said Alex Sanchez, co-founder and managing director for the Network’s parent organization, Voces Unidas de las Montanas.

However, he said it does give a good glimpse into people’s concerns around the phased return to business as usual as the spread of COVID-19 in the area has slowed to what public health officials say are manageable levels.

“Our hope is that it sparks conversation within government, industry and nonprofits about engaging the Latino community … and learning how they feel, what they want and what they need, instead of just guessing,” Sanchez said.

The survey, conducted between May 18-22, targeted 280 households from Parachute to Aspen via text messages, and was shared on social media and other electronic means. A majority of the 84 respondents said they reside in the Glenwood Springs-to-El Jebel corridor, while 21% were from the New Castle to Battlement Mesa area.

The vast majority, 84%, said they work in hotels, restaurants, construction and cleaning services.

Among the survey’s findings:

  • 66% were laid off and had no income due to COVID-19 (15% lost their jobs permanently, 14% had their hours and income reduced, and 5% said they were able to keep working during the crisis)
  • At the time of the survey, 70% were still without work and income (24% were back to work at reduced hours, and 6% were back to normal work levels)
  • 71% said they do not trust that their places of employment will act responsibly with Latino workers
  • 45% said they do not feel safe returning to work, but will return due to need
  • 18% said they do not feel safe and that they did not trust their employer to have a plan in place to protect health
  • 34% feel safe and think their employer will have a health safety plan.

The survey comes as Garfield County Public Health officials report that a recent spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases in the county has impacted the county’s Latino population, especially within family units.

The spread rate among Latino residents also tends to be higher here compared to the state average, according to the county’s statistics. While about a third of Garfield County’s population is Latino, 42% of the county’s 159 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the outbreak began in late winter involved people of Hispanic/Latino decent.

That’s not a surprise, said Beatriz Soto, another of the co-founders and an organizer for the Roaring Fork Latino Network.

“We have seen this at a national level as well. Black, brown and indigenous communities are being hit the hardest with COVID-19,” she said.

“While many community members are staying home, others are starting to be more active and need to work,” Soto added. “Many folks in the Latino community don’t feel safe going back to work … but they have no other option but to go to work to be able to provide for their families.”

It’s not that those in the Latino community are any less careful when it comes to taking precautions in social environments, she said.

“I have seen all community members be more socially active, not just a certain demographics,” she said. “We can see who is sitting in front of restaurants, at parks, rafting, partying at the water park in Glenwood Springs, on trails — and there is a good mix of peoples of all colors, many not wearing mask and following social distancing guidelines.”

As in the larger community, “we also have our conspiracy theorists, anti-government and plain old non-believers of COVID out there,” Soto said of the Latino community.

But governments and public health services, while making an effort to get information out in Spanish, still have a long history of ignoring the needs of the Latino population in times of economic turmoil, Soto said.

Ultimately, the economic burden that has resulted from the public health emergency is what will have the most lasting impact on the Latino community in terms of support services, she said.

“On top of that, most jobs the Latino community does are essential or in person and can’t be done from home, continuing to expose our most vulnerable,” Soto said.

The recent survey also found that only 40% of respondents had received government or nonprofit human service aid during the crisis. Many said they received one-time assistance, but didn’t qualify for additional help. Some said they never got a return call when they did reach out for assistance.

Soto said the Roaring Fork Latino Network has not tried to take on the role of educating the Spanish-speaking community about COVID-19 matters directly, but has supported other agencies in doing that.

“What we do is discuss issues and opportunities impacting the Latino community and invite elected and civic leaders to have brave conversations with us on ways to improve the Roaring Fork Valley,” she said.

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