Across the country, coronavirus has affected communities of color at a disproportionate rate, a national NPR analysis shows. In Lubbock, Hispanic people have tested positive at a higher rate, bearing the brunt of the infectious illness.
About half of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Lubbock are Hispanic. City data shows on Monday, Hispanic patients accounted for 375 of 756 total cases - 49.6%. Comparatively, around 35% of Lubbock is Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census data.
More Hispanic people are testing positive statewide. The group accounts for about 40% of all cases with known ethnicity, the biggest piece of the pie chart, according to data from Texas Health and Human Services. That’s proportionate with the total population in Texas, which is also about 40% Hispanic.
We don’t really know yet why so many Latinos have tested positive, said City of Lubbock Health Director Katherine Wells at a May 20 news conference.
“It’s really something we’re going to need to follow," she said. "I’m not going to have a good answer for exactly why. That’s something we’re going to have to study in the future.”
The state is working on that. Texas Health and Human Services announced last week a study to understand how and why COVID-19 could have a greater impact on vulnerable populations in Texas. The analysis will look at race and ethnicity, but also age, socioeconomic status, geographic location, chronic illness and employment status. Initial results are expected to be released in the fall.
Lubbock doctors say there are known factors that could be impacting the high rate of Latino cases.
Local health authority Dr. Ron Cook said he is not sure of the demographics of the healthcare workers at the Lubbock nursing home that experienced a significant COVID-19 outbreak, but thinks many were tied to that facility.
“They’re front-line people in the workforce and that’s the way it’s worked out," Cook said at a May 20 news conference.
Latino and African American people make up a significant portion of the country’s workforce deemed essential in recent months. Millions of Hispanic workers are in healthcare, food supply and other service industries. This has been considered an contributing cause to the high infection rate of the community, NPR reports.
“Social distancing is a privilege," said Dr. Felix Morales. "I think that’s been a big factor into why you see larger numbers of our community, specifically the Hispanic community, being infected.”
Morales, a general family medicine physician and professor at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said minority communities also have a high rate of existing conditions proven to make people more vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, even asthma," Morales said. "Having these underlying diseases, those play a huge role in regard to infection and the infection rate.”
The higher rate of these conditions in people of color is caused by a few things, the doctor said.
“Part of it is lack of healthcare access, the inability to sees physicians in a timely manner. There are, obviously, some genetic predispositions, particularly to diabetes, as well.”
Lubbock is a few months into the pandemic, but Morales said people, especially those who may be vulnerable, need to practice as many precautions as they can.
Eloy Perez encourages everyone to continue to take the pandemic seriously. He wasn’t as cautious as he could’ve been at first.
“Now that it’s happened to me, I take notice and pay attention to detail and look to see who’s wearing these masks," Perez said. "I’m not being racist, but my own race, a lot of them are not taking precaution and they’re out there like, ‘Oh, it's not going to happen to me.’"
After a near-death experience due to COVID-19, he’s sharing his experience to help others.
The Perez family was hit by COVID-19 in April. Father Eloy got it first. He thinks he contracted it in the community. His wife and two young nieces who live with them also tested positive. They each experienced the symptoms of the respiratory illness differently.
About a week into quarantining, Perez took a turn for the worse and was admitted to University Medical Center. He was there for a lifechanging 22 days.
He doesn’t recall much about the hospital stay, besides the isolation.
“All I remember was that I was so scared that my wife and my family forgot about me," he said. "It was a lonely place, it was a lonely experience.”
But an out-of-body experience where he said God talked directly to him is crystal clear in his mind.
“He didn’t sound like us. His voice was very powerful and very clear," Perez recalls. "He said it like this, “Eloy, Eloy. You’re going back.’ He said, ‘You still have work to do for me.’ And at that moment, somebody whispered in my ear. They told me, ‘Go live your life.’”
Perez woke up wide-eyed.
“The next day, I did a 180-degree turn," he said. "All of my vitals, everything just started clicking at one time.”
With what he called excellent healthcare and countless prayers, Perez is on the mend. He lost 30 pounds while he was sick, but has gained back nine. He’s building his strength up and hopes to go back to work soon. Sticking with the rehabilitation process is crucial to beating the disease, he said.
“He heard those prayers," Perez said. "And I believe that’s why I was given a second chance.”