By Eleanor Lisa Lavadie-Gomez, MD, and Rolando Sanchez, MD
Hispanic and Latino Iowans make up about 6% of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but they account for 30% of the positive tests for the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus. There’s a similar trend across the country.
Those numbers are disturbing, but not surprising. We as Latinos make up a significant part of the work force including care for the elderly in long-term care facilities, staffing the meat packing plants or other factory work and harvesting the food that feeds the nation. Many of our friends and neighbors work in the fast-food industry or other low-income jobs that may not provide the protective gear and physical distancing that would keep them safe.
Then, after a hard day’s work, we go home to our families, including our parents or other relatives, whose age and other health conditions increase the risk of suffering from COVID-19-related hospitalizations and death. And we know that young people may also become extremely ill, or they can also spread the disease without realizing it because of a lack of symptoms.
As Latinos, we take pride in our extended families, but sometimes these multigenerational households make it more challenging for us to physically distance. Tightknit family gatherings that are such an essential part of our culture are now hot zones that put our families at higher risk for getting infected.
We have unique barriers to healthcare that also make it more difficult to get care when we are sick. Whether it’s fear of deportation, lack of a primary care doctor or health insurance, transportation challenges, work shifts we cannot miss because of lost wages, limited phone service or language barriers, Latinos have more difficulty accessing care.
So, what can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? First understand the disease. COVID-19 is not mild like influenza. It spreads easier, is more deadly and has no cure or vaccine. There is a lot of misinformation on social media about medication or treatment for COVID-19, but these “miracle treatments” will not cure COVID-19 and may harm you. In my (Dr. Sanchez) home country of Peru, people have injured themselves because of self-medication, and many have died at home for not seeking medical help early enough. Don’t fall into this trap. Speak with a health care professional or make an appointment with a provider.
The best thing you can do is to take as many safety precautions as possible. Even if you work in an unsafe environment, do your best to follow safety guidelines:
- Wear a mask or face covering. Wear a mask or face shield when out in public or at work, even if you don’t have symptoms. You wear a mask to keep others safe. If you do not have a store-bought mask, use a bandanna to cover your nose, mouth and chin.
- Wash your hands often. Every time you go out or come in the house and before and after you touch your face, wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds. If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer that has at least 60% isopropyl alcohol concentration.
- Physically distance. Stay at least 6 feet apart. Elbow bump or wave instead of hugging. Have gatherings outdoors instead of indoors, with fewer people physically present. Isolate if you’re sick.
- Stay home as much as you can. When you aren’t working or doing other essential tasks, stay home as much as possible.
- Do not let your guard down. If you had COVID-19 it does not mean you’re immune from getting it again or infecting others. There is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19.
COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Infected people have had a wide range of symptoms reported – from mild symptoms to severe illness.
Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
Please see a doctor if you need care. Do not delay if you have symptoms or you may suffer complications that could hurt you long-term or cause death. There is one thing you need to know if you get care at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics: We are going to take care of your family as if they were our family—our mother, our father, our sister, our brother, our child.
We are proud as Latinos to be physicians and to help our community stay healthy and safe. Take control of your care and take precautions to protect your family and yourselves.
Eleanor Lisa Lavadie-Gomez, MD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Family Medicine Department at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
Rolando Sanchez, MD, is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics