Latino residents in Santa Barbara County disproportionately affected by COVID-19

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Despite making up slightly less than half of Santa Barbara County’s population, almost two-thirds of the COVID-19 cases in the county involve Latino residents. This is according to data county Public Health Department Director Van Do-Reynoso presented to the Board of Supervisors during its April 21 meeting.

Over the past few weeks, county public health officials interviewed or contacted 307 people who have been infected with the virus, including inmates who are incarcerated. Of the 221 people not in prison, 61 percent are Latino and 31 percent are white, Do-Reynoso said. According to her presentation, about 48 percent of the county’s residents are Latino and 43 percent are white.

“Our data currently shows that Latino/Hispanic represent a disproportionately higher number of cases compared to their representation in the Santa Barbara population,” she said. “We need to continue efforts to reach community members whose primary language is Spanish.”



In an interview prior to the release of this demographic data, 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino acknowledged that the county initially failed to reach its Latino community with messaging about the virus. However, he believes the county has since improved on that front. The county’s daily press conferences—while initially streamed in English—are now also aired in Spanish. The county is also airing Spanish and Mixteco radio ads.

However, the data Do-Reynoso presented suggests a language barrier isn’t an issue in the majority of the cases. Nearly 80 percent of the people interviewed said English is their primary language, while slightly less than 20 percent said the same of Spanish.

Another 80 percent of the people interviewed said they were somewhat, moderately, or extremely knowledgeable about the virus prior to becoming sick. While 10 percent said they were slightly knowledgeable and 8 percent said they had no knowledge of the virus.

When asked to speculate on the reason for this overrepresentation in the Latino community, Do-Reynoso said she didn’t have an answer. But she added that her department is planning to work with UC Santa Barbara and local community groups to find an explanation and potential solutions.

“So in the weeks to come we’ll be able to really think through and come up with strategies on addressing that,” Do-Reynoso said.

In response to this report, some supervisors, including 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart, said this demographic breakdown shows the barriers some communities face when it comes to accessing health care.

“Historically, our communities of color and immigrant communities haven’t had equitable access to preventive care, culturally responsible health information, or even jobs that allow people to social distance and access paid leave,” Hart said. ∆

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