Our View: Arlandria hit doubly by COVID-19

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Photo/Cody Mello-Klein
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The worst devastation from COVID-19 – in Alexandria, statewide and nationwide – has been in long-term care facilities. A difficult conversation and drastic changes are clearly needed to prevent a repeat of this pandemic in LTCFs. This is a topic we will return to.

But another segment of our population, the Hispanic/Latino community, has also been disproportionately harmed by the coronavirus. The disease itself and the attendant shutdown of “non-essential” businesses have doubly struck our Hispanic and Latino residents.

In today’s page one story in the Times, “COVID-19 hits Chirilagua hard,” we take a deep look into ethnicity, case and zip code data relating to Hispanics, Latinos and COVID-19. Several things are clear:

First, it’s perilous to read too much into zip code data. Just as people tend to erroneously conflate zip code 22314 and Old Town – the Old and Historic District is a small slice of that whole zip code – it is also inaccurate to confuse zip code 22305 with the whole Hispanic/Latino community, since Hispanic and Latino residents comprise about a third of that total zip code. In fact, according to zip-codes.com, more Hispanic and Latino residents live in zip code 22304 than 22305.

The data reveals an interesting dichotomy between cases and deaths in the Hispanic/Latino community. While being disproportionately hit by cases with 59 percent of Alexandria’s 1,233 cases that have an ethnic designation, there have, to date, been five Hispanic/Latino deaths among the 31 deaths for which we have an ethnic designation, which is 16 percent of total deaths in the city for which there is an ethnic identification.

When calculated as a percentage of total cases by ethnicity, we found that the death rate among the Hispanic/Latino community was about 7.5 times lower than that of the non-Hispanic/Latino community: a .69 percent death rate per case compared to a 5.15 percent death rate. And that percentage held up with the larger sample size from state-wide data, where the per case Hispanic/Latino death rate was .86 percent, compared with 6.54 percent for non-Hispanic/Latinos.

What do these numbers mean?

It seems obvious that Hispanic/Latino residents in Alexandria as a group are younger than non-Hispanic/Latino residents, and because hospitalizations and deaths per case spike dramatically with age, this accounts for their disproportionate number of cases, and also their dramatically lower death rate per case.

This is borne out anecdotally, as well as by that suspect zip code data: Zip codes 22304 and 22305 have the highest number and percentage, respectively, of Hispanic/Latino residents in Alexandria, and they also have the two lowest median ages, as well as the lowest median household income.

Furthermore, Alexandria’s age data for COVID-19 cases skews younger than that of Virginia as a whole. While the age 40-49 age group in Virginia as a whole has the most cases, in Alexandria it’s the 30-39 age group that has experienced the most cases. The top three age groups by cases in Virginia are 40-49, 30-39 then 50-59. In Alexandria, it’s 30-39 first, 40-49 second and 20-29 third.

Given that Hispanic or Latino residents make up 59 percent of the cases, and that Alexandria’s case demographic skews younger, it’s a reasonable conclusion that those younger people are disproportionately Hispanic or Latino.

It’s also clear that these younger Hispanic or Latino residents, some of whom are also undocumented, tend to hold front-line jobs that can’t be done from home. To the extent they’ve been able, it appears they have continued to work, thus exposing themselves and their families to the coronavirus in greater numbers than other, older, more affluent Alexandrians who are able to work from home or financially ride out the shutdown.

Given that Alexandria’s Hispanic/Latinos are younger and poorer, it also stands to reason that they are more likely to live in multi-family homes than non-Hispanic or Latino residents. Greater density contributes to virus spread, as it’s difficult to practice social distancing in an apartment hallway.

Both sickness and the shutdown have put many Hispanic or Latino residents out of work, and those who are undocumented are ineligible to receive unemployment or stimulus funding from the government.

This situation calls for a compassionate response from our caring community, and that’s what is taking place. Neighborhood Health is committed to widespread testing of Hispanic and Latino residents, and assistance organizations are stepping up to help.

This community, more than any other in Alexandria, also needs the coronavirus shutdown to end as soon as possible.

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