Crain’s Chicago Business
July 30, 2021
SYLVIA PUENTE and NOREEN SUGRUE
To head off potentially devastating health and economic outcomes, officials must ensure that trusted community partners are given all the resources they require to vaccinate members of the Latino community.
The common belief that children do not get sick and that COVID is not a problem for kids is false. All children are at risk, especially Latino children.
Vaccines are the most effective firewall against infection, hospitalization, and death. But because those under 12 are still ineligible to receive a vaccine and the Latino population skews young, large numbers of Latinos are unable to be vaccinated. In addition, in Illinois among all racial/ethnic groups between the ages of 20 and 59, Latinos have the highest rate of COVID cases. Those under 59 are most likely to be working and parents to young children. With Latinos overrepresented in essential high-risk occupations and also having limited access to vaccines, as Lucy’s story illustrates, they bring the virus home and infect young unvaccinated family members.
Lucy, an essential hospitality worker with a seven-year-old and a toddler, reported that she has had to reschedule her vaccine appointment on three occasions. Every time she went to the drugstore at the appointed time she was told she had misunderstood and there was no vaccine. It was not until she contacted a community-based organization where workers spoke Spanish that she was able to secure a vaccine.
While Lucy was attempting to get a vaccine she continued to work, she says, “with not very much protection.” Lucy was not able to socially distance or isolate from others at home because her housing circumstances are like those of many Latinos: multi-generational, multi-family, and crowded. Lucy and her children share a small apartment with her sister and nephew. Lucy’s children, sister, and nephew were all at risk for infection because of her job, the lack of worker protection, and her inability to easily access a vaccine. While Lucy has not been diagnosed with COVID, her two-year-old was, but was not hospitalized. Her nephew was sick but never diagnosed.
We are facing an increasingly dire situation in Illinois’ Latino community. Latinos have the highest rates of illness among the young, schools are reopening with a CDC recommendation but no state or federal mandate for masking, and parents are working in high risk jobs with many still having trouble accessing a vaccine.
To head off potentially devastating health and economic outcomes, lawmakers and public health officials must ensure that trusted community partners and community health workers are given all the resources they require to vaccinate members of the Latino community. Also required are legal guarantees that all workers are afforded the necessary protections against infection as well as paid time off should they become ill. And like CPS, every school district must follow the American Academy of Pediatrics and mandate that all be masked in schools.
With back-to-school season around the corner, these changes could provide the best chance for heading off a tsunami of COVID cases among Latino children, and protecting all children in the process. We’d be smart to start these efforts now, before another wave with dire social and economic consequences is in full swing.
Sylvia Puente is president and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum in Illinois; Noreen Sugrue is director of research.