Latinos now 1 in 4 of Iowa’s COVID-19 cases

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By Laura Belin, Courtesy of BleedingHeartland.com

Racial disparities continue to widen as the number of novel coronavirus cases grows in Iowa.

Data published on the state’s COVID-19 website on May 20 indicate that Latinos make up 26 percent of Iowa’s 15,534 confirmed COVID-19 cases. That’s more than four times the share of Latinos in the state population (6.2 percent according to the latest Census Bureau estimate).

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Another 58 of Iowans who have tested positive are not Hispanic or Latino, while the remaining 16 percent of cases are pending further investigation of the person’s ethnicity.

The proportion could rise further in the coming days, when more results come in from the Test Iowa drive-through site that opened on May 16 in Storm Lake. Buena Vista County is about 26 percent Latino, the highest percentage for any Iowa county.

Meatpacking plants have been the source of Iowa’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks, and people of color make up most of the workforce in those facilities. At this writing, the ten Iowa counties with the most coronavirus cases per capita all contain large food processing plants.

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Many immigrants from Africa or Asia also work in meatpacking, which is one reason those communities are disproportionately represented among Iowans who have tested positive for COVID-19. At this writing, 12.4 percent of confirmed cases are African Americans, more than three times the share of Black people in the state population (4.0 percent). Asians or Pacific Islanders now account for 10.0 percent of COVID-19 cases, while only 2.8 percent of Iowans are part of those communities.

Since not all Iowa meatpacking plants are universally testing their workforce, the racial disparities in COVID-19 cases are likely wider than official statistics reflect.

Racial disparities are less pronounced in Iowa’s coronavirus deaths, probably because the majority of Iowans who have died in the pandemic were living in nursing homes (a predominantly white population). At this writing, an estimated 300 of the 385 Iowans who have died (78.0 percent) were white. 2% were Pacific Islanders, 3% were Asians, 5% were African Americans , and 5% were Latinos. Some cases are pending further investigation.

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Deaths directly or indirectly tied to food processing facilities include Husen Jagir, an immigrant from Eritrea who worked at a Sioux City pork plant; Axel Kabeya, a prominent member of Waterloo’s Congolese community who worked at Tyson Foods; Jose Gabriel Martinez of West Liberty, who caught COVID-19 from his wife, an egg factory worker; and Jose Andrade Garcia who worked at the JBS plant in Marshalltown and was only 1 week away from retirement.

Top image: Photos published by the League of United Latin American Citizens, taken at the JBS pork processing plant in Marshalltown, Iowa on March 27, 2020. 

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