Descubre with Montse: The pandemic’s impact on different demographics

Descubre means "discover" and TV6's Montse Ricossa helps you discover more about different and...
Descubre means "discover" and TV6's Montse Ricossa helps you discover more about different and diverse topics in the United States.(KWQC)
Published: Oct. 3, 2020 at 6:57 PM CDT
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From TV6 News, it’s Descubre with Montse, I’m Montse Ricossa. Descubre means “discover” and I’m here to help you discover more about different and diverse topics in the United States. Welcome to Descubre with Montse’s 11th episode, “The pandemic’s impact on different demographics.”

Today is Saturday, October 3rd. We’ve discussed how COVID-19 affects communities of color in a previous episode, specifically why they may be more likely to catch the novel coronavirus. Today, we’re looking at the data of whom it is affecting in both Iowa and Illinois.

In Iowa, there have been about 92,000 positive cases so far. The cases though, don’t correlate with the population of Iowa. 85% of Iowa is white, but they only make up 71% of the positive tests. On the other hand, 6% of Iowa is Hispanic and they make up 13% of the positive cases. Similarly, 4% of Iowa is Black and they make up 6% of positive cases.

An analysis from the Associated Press and the Marshall Project found "people of color make up just under 40% of the U.S. population but accounted for approximately 52% of all the “excess deaths” above normal through July."

Locally in the Quad Cities, located along the Iowa and Illinois border, there is not enough data on COVID-19 related deaths to see a statistically significant trend. However, we can see a trend in positive cases throughout the states.

In Illinois, there was a 25% difference in the positivity rate between those who identified as Hispanic and those who did not, at its highest peak on April 7th. From 55% to 30% for non-Hispanic, and 19% positivity rate for an “unknown” ethnicity. The most recent data available from September 23rd showed an 8% positivity rate for Hispanics, 5% unknown, and 3% who were not Hispanic.

On the same day, there was a smaller racial disparity between races in Illinois, only a 5% difference in positivity rate between “other” at 6% at the top and Asians at 1% with the lowest positivity rate.

We’re taking a closer look at how those numbers compare on a smaller scale with Janet Hill, the Chief Operating Officer for the Rock Island County Health Department.

Janet Hill: At the beginning in Rock Island County, many of our early cases were people who work at the local meatpacking plant. And a lot of people who work at those packing plants are people of color. Many, many of whom are Hispanic other races and ethnicities are just various people who have come here as refugees, So a lot of Congolese and a lot of people from Africa. So I think that that possibly could contribute to it but as far as giving you a specific number. I could just say that a lot of our data is missing.

Montse Ricossa: Mmhmm. And why do you think that is the case? Because like you mentioned, about half of the people that are tested don’t report their ethnicity.

Janet Hill: Well, it’s just, it’s a function of the testing process so that the person who is doing the test has to fill out a form, at least at the beginning they had to fill out a form and a lot of that data just wasn’t filled in. Now the state has changed its testing process and it’s now all electronic and those fields are required to be filled in. So I’m hoping that we’re going to get a better data set as we go on.

Montse Ricossa: I took a test today actually and I took it in Iowa and I don’t recall that it was required to mention that. How does it change, and you know the results are just, you know, the department of public health knowledge, knowing what somebody’s ethnicity, race, or age, sex, whatever it may be, how does that affect your understanding of the virus?

Janet Hill: Absolutely does. It helps inform our health equity discussions and knows that it helps us understand who is being disproportionately affected. Health equity is a very important part of public health. We want to reach all members of our community and tailor our public health messages and programs to meet all sectors of the community. So, once all this data gets settled in. It’ll be really interesting to see, you know, where we possibly could have improved our messaging or what we can do and, you know, the next time unfortunately I hope we don’t have a next time, but we possibly could.

Montse Ricossa: Is there something that you maybe wish you would have known when you first started this about demographics and how you need to communicate to different kinds of people?

Janet Hill: So right away we were starting to see that there were a lot of cases in my communities that are not English speaking. So we worked with World relief, which is one of our great partners, and we work with the meatpacking plant where a lot of those folks work to get signage and public health guidance in their native language. So we did French and Swahili, we did Hakha Chin, Spanish, I think we ended up doing seven different languages. And that helped. We also have a campaign on busses that talk about social distancing and wearing a mask. So we knew right away that people of color are being disproportionately affected. But, you know, there’s been a lapse in data so we just don’t know exactly the exact number of people who are affected and what their racial or ethnic backgrounds are. I would say that most recently we’ve seen a trend that it’s a lot of younger people who are just not listening to the public health guidance and are not understanding that they are part of a community. That if they get it, they might be sick for a week or less and not be too bad. Their parents or their grandparents or their older co-workers may not be able to find it off as easily. And so we’re working very hard to get people to understand that this is a, it’s a matter of community need to know to be kind and considerate of your community members and that means wearing a mask and social distancing and washing your hands and really just not going out in large gatherings and taking unnecessary risk. I’d say that’s one of the hardest messages we’ve had to get across because Americans feel like No one can tell them what to do and you know we’re not ordering them. We are asking them. That and that is, you know, there’s a difference and then we’re just trying to appeal to their sense of community and their sense of grace actually.

Montse Ricossa: Looking at the Illinois Department of Public Health website: on March 14, there was almost a 70% positivity rate for an Asian population specifically. I mean that was like their highest peak, it was a 70% positivity rate. Do you have an idea as to why that could have been? I think Pritzker, Governor Pritzker went to Chinatown to make an announcement around that date saying you know, it’s not the ‘Chinese virus.’ It’s everybody’s. But a 67% positivity rate for Asians specifically seems incredibly high. Do you have a guess as to why that could have been?

Janet Hill: I know that some of the first cases in Illinois were travel-related people who moved into China. And I remember specifically, it was a husband and wife. Where the wife had been to China and then came home ill and, and her husband got sick. So when you’re talking about I mean, I’m not shocked by that number because we are talking about a relatively low number of cases at that point. So if you have, you know, just a handful of people who are Asian I think that number would spike at that point. And I guess I would be more concerned about the numbers a little bit later in the pandemic than right at the beginning.

Montse Ricossa: When I looked at the data from Rock Island County in our local counties. And like I mentioned earlier, there’s just not very much related to deaths specifically since we haven’t had an incredibly high death rate, although it is high and, you know, every death is a loss, it’s not enough numbers to really look at the data and see what specifically is happening. But for health equity, you mentioned earlier, is that something that you’ve seen become better over time, with different races that you know we have a more equal access to health care for people of color, communities of color, especially Rock Island County, which is one of the more diverse ones in the Quad Cities?

Janet Hill: We’ve known that health equity has been a problem in the Quad Cities. Every three years we do a community health assessment with their partners, the quality health initiative, and the hospital systems, and the Scott County Health Department. We know in Rock Island County, which has a higher percentage of people of color, that our health outcomes are worse. We have a higher rate of chronic disease, and we have a lower median death rate or death age. So we know that we have some health equity issues in Rock Island County, so I’m going to be really eager to see the pandemic data because that will just give us more data to go on to you know to make messaging and to, you know, have programs to address that.

Montse Ricossa: There is obviously a myriad of reasons as to why there could be, you know that disparity. But would you mind touching on a few that maybe some people might not know about? In a previous interview, I did with Daniel Joiner from a local hospital he mentioned, you know, sometimes it’s just people might not want to go to a hospital because they’re afraid of it or they might have the language barrier. Is that part of something that you see as well or what other reasons could there be?

Janet Hill: I think a lot of it comes down to what we call the social determinants of health. That is where people of color show up, most frequently in health disparities. So if you don’t have enough money to have adequate housing or do not have enough money for adequate food or you have to eat fast food because you can’t afford to make a healthy meal or you don’t have a place where you can make it. That is going to affect your health. I mean your most important basic needs are not being met, so therefore you’re not going to be able to worry about something that you think will just go away on its own. So I think that to piggyback on what Daniel said, I think that you know, if you’re dealing with your, your both basic human needs. Then, health kind of falls down in what follows a little bit.

Montse Ricossa: Sure. Is there something that you would want those that might have a symptom or are concerned and have had contact with somebody, is there a message you would want them to remember through, you know every day but especially during a pandemic?

Janet Hill: I would say that if someone feels symptomatic, and what is really unfortunate, as we head into flu season is COVID and flu, and sometimes the common cold has a lot of vague symptoms in they’re very similar. COVID and flu are differentiated, most of the time by people having a fever, but not always. And that’s, that’s unfortunate. So if someone does not feel well, this is not the year, to just go to work when you’re not feeling well. They may not have COVID they may not have flu but they have something that’s contagious. And when everyone is just trying their best to stay well, we need people to stay home when they don’t feel all themselves.

Montse Ricossa: Sure. And with that, I mean I’ve heard I think like the term “twindemic” where the flu and COVID are happening at the same time. How will this year, obviously be different with COVID but how is that going to impact our population and communities of color with the flu and COVID-19 happening at the same time?

Janet Hill: No, we’re very worried about that. A lot of times, people in lower-income jobs don’t have sick time. And we understand that if they don’t go to work, they don’t get paid. But when we have the twin infections of influenza and COVID-19, we absolutely urge them to stay home when they are sick. That is just how we’re going to control these viruses and they are two different viruses that have very similar impacts. We’ve been talking about flattening the curve since the very beginning of the pandemic. Flu and COVID will be using the same resources in the healthcare delivery system. So if we have a huge number of flu cases and we continue to have a huge number of COVID cases, that’s going to really put a stress on our hospital systems that people are using ventilators and ICU beds and specialized staff, and I just think that people need to understand that, you know, they are part of the community and they really need to take care of one another and that includes staying home when they’re ill.

Montse Ricossa: Sure, no that’s very understandable. I saw on the Illinois Department of Public Health that you know in April, late April, about 45% of the positive cases came from those that were 80 years and up, and then this past month, I mean there was under 10% for those and it was the largest group was 20 to 29. It was almost 70%.  So do you believe that’s because you know they’re going out one and the older population may have gotten the message because you know they watch the news more and they go on busses, those sorts of things?

Janet Hill: People are who are older, you know have gone through different stages of their life and understand, you know, someone who you know went through a whole different era, and understands you know that life is precious may be willing to take more precautions. Someone who is not necessarily willing to think about the other or how it affects other people may not be willing to, you know, to give up their desires for the community good.

Montse Ricossa: Sure, I mean we still, I mean ‘we’ as I’m in the younger age group of 20 to 29. I think sometimes it’s easier to just think of yourself and think ‘well, I’m not going to be injured. I’m not going to present the symptoms’ and then that’s part of the issue of asymptomatic versus symptomatic right? And we’re still learning so many more symptoms.

Janet Hill: Right. A lot of times people, especially younger people don’t know that they’re sick. You know, I would think that I really would help someone who is sick would isolate, but if they don’t know that they’re that they have the virus and are able to get other people sick, and that just goes back to the precautions that you know we shouldn’t be gathering in large spaces we should always be wearing a mask. And, you know, that really is a message that is, you know, we’ve been saying it on and on and on again since March and I know that people know it. And I believe that most people are taking it to heart but there’s just a group of people that for whatever reason, are continuing to live their life as if there’s not a pandemic.

Montse Ricossa: Illinois has seen 300,088 cases as of October 3rd, with a 96% recovery rate. Iowa has seen 91,861 cases as of October 3rd, with a positivity rate of 11.3%. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the United States has over 7.3 million positive cases and over 208,000 deaths.

This podcast was produced and edited by Montse Ricossa, reviewed by David Nelson, theme music composed by Gabriel Candiani and Eduardo Moretti Valenzuela.

I’m your host, Montse Ricossa.

Hasta la próxima, until next time!

Copyright 2020 KWQC. All rights reserved.