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Health Dept.: COVID-19 disproportionately affects Utah's Hispanic and Latino communities

Posted at 5:38 PM, Dec 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-05 19:14:29-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Utah's Hispanic and Latino community, which has seen the second most hospitalizations and deaths from the virus, according to the Utah Department of Health.

The Leza family from Brigham City is just one of many families in the community who have lost a loved one during the pandemic.

“My 34-year-old daughter and 31-year-old son called and said ‘I think we’re going to take grandpa to the hospital, because he just doesn’t sound right," said Danny Leza.

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Doctors initially thought Leza's father Hiram was suffering from a stroke.

“It turned out he did not have a stroke," he said. "They did a COVID test and that’s when they told us he had COVID.”

Leza said just 14 days later his father died from the virus.

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“And through the window of the hospital, we watched as they removed his respirator," Leza said tearfully. "And we were able to watch him take his last breath."

Hiram Leza was just one of 169 members of Utah's Latino community that have died due to COVID-19. But the Leza family does not want him remembered as just a statistic.

“He was a real person that touched a lot of lives, especially here in Brigham City.”

Hiram Leza worked for Thoikol, an Ogden company that produces rocket propulsion systems for NASA, for 30 years. Leza said his father was responsible for transporting astronauts, dignitaries and politicians to the company's testing site.

“That was like the highlight for us, I mean we were kids and we were like ‘man my dad knows astronauts?” Leza said excitedly. “We thought it was super cool that he got to meet these men and women.”

Even though Latinos only make up 14% of the state's population, they make up almost 25% of total cases and 18% of total deaths.

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Case workers at Centro de la Familia, a Latino nonprofit organization, said economic factors are a big reason why the virus has had such a large impact on the community.

"I think one of the [biggest] things, and actually I just spoke to a family about this is the cost," said Lorena Perez, a family service specialist with Centro de la Familia.

Many Latino families Perez helps said they cannot spend the $140 to get tested.

"Some of our families aren't going to get tested," she added. "Only the husband is working, and it's $140 and we can't afford it."

Unlike many in the Latino community, Hiram Leza did have health insurance, and was able to get tested for COVID-19. But by the time doctors had discovered he was positive the damage to his lungs had already begun.

In addition to the cost of care, Perez said language barriers and work environments are other factors that put this community at higher risk.

"Some of them don't have PTO or any of those things," Perez said. "So they still have to go into work or else they'll lose their job."

Centro de la Familia has put together health safety kits that include masks, sanitizers and digital thermometers to help keep the community safe.

"That's one of the best things families can have," Perez added.

Aside from the kits, Centro de la Familia is helping members of the community find access to low, or no-cost testing and healthcare options. You can find more information on their website.