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Panel discusses COVID-19 pandemic impact on San Diego County Latina population

Posted at 12:54 PM, Dec 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-15 17:15:28-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – Several Latina community leaders, including some elected officials, met virtually Tuesday to show how much the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way of life for San Diego County’s Latina population.

Among panelists was National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, who said the coronavirus has hit her city in many ways. Solis pointed out that many that are affected are working class families, where the average income is about $41,000 for a family of four.

“Which means there may be both parents working one or two jobs. And when it comes to childcare or access to WIFI that’s working, to make sure they have access to health care; it’s imperative as leaders and as Latinas that we bridge those resources to those in most need,” said Sotelo-Solis.

Sotelo-Solis also highlighted the importance of having discussions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Leaders within the Chicano Federation say even though Latinos make up the most positive COVID-19 cases locally, the level of confidence in a new vaccine is still low. They point to a number of factors, such as lack of access, not enough information or lack of trust, as contributing to that mindset.

Sotelo-Solis volunteered to participate in one of the vaccine studies, and she said there is a call to action to get involved in this coronavirus fight.

“Just as it took us months to get used to feel comfortable about wearing facial coverings and masks, it’s going to take conversations to discuss what you’re going to put in your body. But, doing it in ways so people understand and not create more fear or confusion because that’s not what this is for,” the mayor said.

A key part in what she believes is needed to make sure the gaps that have been created by this pandemic are closed.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, and the mayors of Chula Vista and Oceanside were also participants in the Tuesday panel.

According to Latina-focused nonprofit MANA de San Diego, the burden on Latino households comes as households already had lower pre-pandemic wages, less access to health care and job-related benefits. Latinas in particular have faced increased job losses and threats of economic insecurity, they said.

Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas, a member of SANDAG's Board of Directors, shared that while Latinas comprise around 17% of the county's population, around 60% of that population is working in the three industries most impacted by job loss during the pandemic -- tourism, retail and education. Latinas account for 14% of total county employment, but 20% of employment in those sectors.

Data from SANDAG paints a bleak picture in regard to Latinas during the pandemic. When compared to the white population, Hispanic populations are almost three times as likely to live in areas that have been highly impacted by COVID-19 and unemployment. Additionally, Hispanic residents account for a significant portion of essential workers, and many became unemployed due to temporary business closures as a result of COVID-19.

A total of 70% of Hispanic households are in ZIP codes with above average unemployment, 49% in ZIP codes with above average COVID-19 cases and 42% of Hispanic households are in ZIP codes with both above average.

More than 100,000 San Diegans have tested positive for the virus, and 57% of those have been Hispanic or Latino.

"As the pandemic grows in severity and stay-at-home orders are strengthened, it is the county's Latina population that will continue to face a disproportionate amount of risk and negative impacts," a statement from MANA de San Diego said.

A Harvard, NPR and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study also found 46% of Latino households have used up "most or all" of their savings during the pandemic, with an additional 15% reporting they had no savings before COVID- 19 hit the United States.

The same study found 66% of Latino households with children report serious problems caring for their children, including 36% who report serious problems keeping their children's education going.

"MANA de San Diego will continue to do our part in creating upward social mobility for Latinas," said Inez Gonzalez Perezchia, MANA de San Diego's executive director. "We will work with our elected officials joining us today and we welcome allies to join us as well. This is just the beginning of the work that we expect to do in 2021."

MANA De San Diego is a nonprofit with a mission of empowering Latinas through education, leadership development, community service and advocacy.

City News Service contributed to this report