Latinos who live in Beaumont and northern Jefferson County account for 13% of the population but nearly 30% of COVID-19 cases there, prompting urgent new outreach from public health officials.

Countywide, the growth rate of confirmed infections in the Latino community has outpaced that of nearly every other racial or ethnic group since mid-May.

The Beaumont Public Health Department has begun to respond. It has increased virus testing in locations well-known to the greater Latino community, translating informational materials into Spanish and getting the word out through local Spanish-language media, Director Sherry Ulmer said.

Related: More SE Texas residents required to wear masks amid COVID-19 case growth

These strategies likely will help, but one regional health expert says the rate of the virus’ spread within the Latino community is indicative of long-standing barriers to overall health.

Shannon Guillot-Wright is director of Health Policy Research for the Center for Violence Prevention at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, which is researching how these traditional barriers have affected the virus’ spread in communities of color.

“Thinking about the neighborhoods people live in, where people work, where they go to school, the different kinds of food they have access to and how that all ends up affecting people’s health - those happened long before the pandemic,” she said.

“Now, we’re really seeing the dramatic impacts through COVID and what that means for long-term health and safety across age groups.”

Ulmer, whose department covers the northern half of Jefferson County, compared the Latino outbreak to that among African-Americans, who have experienced a disproportionate level and severity of coronavirus cases.

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When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Pleasant Green Baptist Church, 3420 St. James, Beaumont

When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday

Where: Northridge Manor, 4155 Maida, Beaumont

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 19

Where: John Davis Community Center, 3580 E. Lucas, Beaumont

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 20

Where: Forest Park United Methodist Church, 255 S. Major Drive, Beaumont

When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 20

Where: Stonehurst Apartments, 1615 E. Lucas, Beaumont

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 21

Where: Alice Keith Community Center, 4050 Reed, Beaumont

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 22

Where: Sterling Pruitt Community Center, 2930 Gulf, Beaumont

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 23

Where: Rogers Park Community Center, 1455 Dowlen Road, Beaumont

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 24

Where: Central Park Community Center, intersection of Fourth Street and Fannin, Beaumont

When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 27

Where: Pointe North, 3710 Magnolia, Beaumont

It’s likely the additional risk factors in the Black community were a greater focus when the pandemic began because the number of cases was higher.

Now, as the number of Black individuals testing positive for coronavirus inches closer to percentage of their overall population, the rise in the number of infected Latinos stands in stark contrast.

Since mid-May, Jefferson County’s Latino community has seen confirmed cases grow by nearly 715%. That’s compared to overall case growth of 526%.

One factor contributing to that is a language barrier, said Jesus Abrego, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Beaumont.

Much of the Latino community in Southeast Texas speaks Spanish only, he said, yet information about the virus presented in Spanish to this point has been limited.

Abrego is working with the Health Department to do virus outreach through Spanish-language media.

Additionally, Ulmer said, Latino individuals are more likely to live in multigenerational households. As the economy has reopened and the average age of coronavirus patients has dropped, the younger members of those households have picked up the virus while working or socializing and brought it back to their families.

“Again, looking at an already vulnerable population, they are likely going to be hit the hardest,” Guillot-Wright said. “Especially when you put on top of that, essential workers in low-wage jobs are disproportionately people of color.”

That’s one reason it’s been so important to find ways to increase testing opportunities specifically in the Latino community. That way, those cases can be identified, and the infected individuals isolated sooner.

Late last month, the state tested more than 400 people at El Cristo Rey Catholic Church, which Ulmer said was specifically chosen for the Latino community.

Guillot-Wright said the channels and messaging being set up to address coronavirus also could make way to address many of the systemic barriers to health care going forward.

She specifically pointed to the focus on wearing masks for the broader community, instead of just to protect oneself as an example.

“For instance, when we talk about Latinx workers who are essential workers on the front lines and have a lot of contact with people, we don’t want to put (all of) the onus on those workers to wear a mask and practice hygiene,” she said. “It really takes the patrons as well. We’re also practicing safe hygiene to keep our community safe.”

kaitlin.bain@beaumontenterprise.com

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