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COVID-19 case rate decreasing in Utah’s once hardest-hit Latino community

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Alborz Alimadadi and Yihao Qin work at a COVID-19 test site run by the Salt Lake County Health Department at Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s Latino and Hispanic community — once among the hardest hit by COVID-19 infections during the pandemic — is seeing a decrease in case rates despite the state’s ongoing surge.

“It’s definitely been a focus of the Unified Command groups to drive down cases” in the Latino community which at one point saw “easily double” the numbers of cases of other communities, said Tom Hudachko, spokesman with the Utah Department of Health.

That outreach has consisted of targeted testing, quarantine and contact tracing, as well as an effort to create culturally appropriate public health messaging by local and state health workers, especially in Salt Lake County, Hudachko said.

For the first several months of the pandemic, Hispanics and Latinos accounted for about 40% of the state’s cases overall but just 14.2% of the population. But their share of cases has since dropped to 31.8%, according to state health department data.

During a June peak of the disease, the Latino community experienced a per-capita case rate of 68.6 per 100,000 — one of the highest rates seen in any Utah community since the start of the pandemic. During that peak, the Latino community also accounted for between 40% and 50% of the state’s daily cases, according to new data from the Utah Department of Health.

Meanwhile, the Latino community’s overall positive test rate is a staggering 22.8% as 22,581 cases have been confirmed of 98,860 tested, the data shows. That compares to the statewide positive rate of 8.8%.

Now, though still disproportionately impacted, the numbers are beginning to even out as the Latino community is approaching a daily share of the state’s cases closer to 14%. On Monday, the community represented just 16.7% of the state’s cases.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said in a statement that county leaders sought help from community leaders while working to bring down case counts in the Latino community.

“We knew that diverse communities like the Latino community would best respond to messages from trusted partner organizations and community leaders, so we enlisted the help and support of people like Sen. Luz Escamilla; Jose Luis Romero, owner of La Diana Market; and James Yapias with the Salt Lake Education Foundation to share precautionary messages,” Wilson said.

“I’m also proud of the hundreds of Salt Lake County employees whose work with test sites, contact tracing, and messaging in making a measurable positive difference in these disproportionately affected communities. It takes all of us working together to ensure all communities are well-informed and have the resources they need to make healthy choices,” she said.

While progress has been made, Hudachko said it’s not yet cause for celebration as “we want to get to point where that community is not disproportionately affected whatsoever.”

New cases

For the first time in eight days, Utah health officials on Tuesday reported fewer than 700 new COVID-19 cases.

Of 4,403 people tests reported — a smaller number than the previous several days — 694 were positive, a rate of 15.8%, according to the Utah Department of Health.

The beginning of the week, however, usually brings lower case counts and fewer tests reported, making it too early to tell whether Utah is seeing a true decline in new infections.

The rolling seven-day average for daily new cases is now 1,012 per day, and the average positive test rate is 13.7%. Currently, 183 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19, 17 more than were hospitalized on Monday. Hospitalizations in Utah since the outbreak hit now total 3,807.

Four new deaths were also reported Tuesday, bringing the state’s toll due to the disease to 457.

The four women who died include a Salt Lake County woman between the ages of 65 and 84 who was a long-term care resident; a Salt Lake County woman older than 85 who was hospitalized when she died; a Davis County woman between 65 and 84 who was also hospitalized when she died; and a Washington County woman between 65 and 84 whose hospitalization status was unknown by health officials.

Now 72,136 cases have been confirmed out of 821,864 people tested in the state since the start of the pandemic. Of those cases, 12,835 remain active as of Tuesday and the rest are considered recovered after surviving the three-week point since their diagnoses.

New COVID-19 cases reported Monday by health district across Utah:

  • Salt Lake County, 266.
  • Utah County, 254.
  • Davis County, 48.
  • Weber-Morgan, 38.
  • Bear River, 26.
  • Southwest Utah, 21.
  • Wasatch County, 11.
  • Central Utah, 10.
  • Summit County, 9.
  • Southeast Utah, 5.
  • Tooele County, 4.
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 1.
  • San Juan County, 1.