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York City Latinos hard hit by COVID-19, 43% of cases from one facility, mayor says

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Anthony Ferguson and his partner Elaine Dickson, both of York City, don masks as they walk home on East Market Street after a visit to a bank Friday, April 17, 2020. York City's Hispanic and black populations have the highest percentage of York County's Covid-19 cases. Bill Kalina photo

York City's Latino population has been disproportionately impacted by the novel coronavirus, according to data collected by the city's Health Bureau.

As of Monday, Latinos made up 72% of the city's 109 confirmed cases, according to city officials, while comprising just 33% of the city's total population. 

And that number could increase, as the city had seen 40 additional cases as of Friday in which race had not been reported.

“It’s very surprising. From what our numbers show, this is related back to workplace contact,” Mayor Michael Helfrich said Friday.

Helfrich said 43% of all of the city’s confirmed cases of the coronavirus trace back to a single facility outside of the city that employs a large number of Latinos. Helfrich refused to identify the facility. 

State Department of Health officials declined to comment.

More:York County has 50 new coronavirus cases, single-day increases climb

More:UPDATED: School districts, restaurants offer meals for students during shutdown

The bureau also reported that roughly 17% of confirmed cases were African Americans — who make up 26% of the city's population. 

About 7% of the cases were among whites, a demographic that makes up nearly 38% of the population.

City officials have said the municipality is fortunate to have one of only 10 health bureaus in the state, allowing it to more easily collect racial data.

Pennsylvania didn't begin disseminating racial data until Thursday, although other states have been releasing similar information for weeks, Spotlight PA reported.

But city officials have also cautioned that the racial data collected may not be spot on. That's largely because it relies on patients self-reporting details such as race and ethnicity.

Dr. Matthew Howie, medical director of the city's Health Bureau, said that based on what was known, there are a couple of factors that could be driving the disproportionate infection rates.

Minorities are more likely to have chronic conditions such as obesity and hypertension, which plays a "significant role" in their risk of contracting COVID-19, Howie said.

In a diverse city with a 35% poverty rate, socioeconomic factors also come into play.

"Socioeconomic factors play a role in a lot of health conditions," Howie said. "COVID-19 is not different. Depending on the number of individuals living in a house, you can have increased exposure because of the difficulty of self-isolating and self-quarantine."

Minorities are also more likely to work for businesses that have been deemed essential, such as the manufacturing and food industries, he added.

The city has done a "great job" at releasing information in Spanish about the coronavirus, said York City Councilman Lou Rivera. State and federal officials haven't, he said.

Lou Rivera is sworn in at the start of the first York City Council meeting of the year, Monday, January 6, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

It wasn't until Latino-advocacy groups slammed Gov. Tom Wolf's administration over not offering daily coronavirus updates in Spanish that it began to do so in late March.

"We need to make sure our people are protected. And we need to get the message out," Rivera said.

York City has planned to double-down on its Latino outreach efforts amid the coronavirus as well.

The city received $654,000 in state funding, some of which will be used for mailers, billboards and other signage to more effectively disseminate virus-related information, said Philip Given, acting director of community and economic development.

As of midnight Sunday, there were 481 confirmed COVID-19 cases in York County, with six virus-related deaths.

York City has had 149, or roughly one-third, of those cases. A York City resident has also been one of the deaths.

Statewide, there have been 32,284 confirmed cases and 1,112 deaths.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.

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