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In-Depth: Study shows Hispanic COVID-19 deaths disproportionately high

More federal workplace oversight needed, study shows
In-Depth: Study shows Hispanic COVID deaths disproportionately high
In-Depth: Study shows Hispanic COVID deaths disproportionately high
Posted at 9:48 PM, May 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-04 23:08:54-04

CLEVELAND — A new study by researchers at Ohio State University and the University of Milwaukee showed the disproportionate mortality rate COVID-19 has had on the Hispanic community.

The study utilized data from the Centers for Disease Control, and the U.S. Department of Labor to reveal that Hispanics constituted 40% of U.S. COVID-19 deaths, but only represented 19% of the population in 2020.

The report shows Hispanics in the working ages of 30 to 59 faced the biggest COVID-19 mortality burden.

Study co-author Phoenix Do, Associate Professor at the Zilber School of Public Health, at the University of Milwaukee, told News 5 her research indicated the higher death rates among working Hispanics had nothing to do with preexisting medical conditions, but instead, it was workplace environment in front-line jobs that was a key factor in the health disparity.

“Workplace safety is really the driving factor," Do said.

“These occupations, essential worker occupations, tend to be low paying, so these groups do not have that privilege to stay at home.”

“There are really two pandemics, one for those who are affluent and are in a position to protect themselves, and the other, in which the rest of the working population cannot."

Do said her research also pointed to U.S. Department of Labor data which indicated the Occupational Health and Safety Administration took in 14,000 virus-related workplace complaints but issued fewer than 300 citations in 2020. Do said that shows better workplace oversight is needed.

“There’s not a sufficient amount of supervision or overview of enforcement of these workplace safety policies, and no universal paid sick leave," Do said.

“These are policy issues that can be addressed, and also importantly, these findings in our study are applicable to other infectious diseases, so it’s not just COVID.”

Local Hispanic leader Juan Molina Crespo, Executive Director of Consultamos LLC, told News 5 more federal workplace monitoring is desperately needed.

“Why is there no compliance, why is the federal government not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, when they know it could lead to saving lives in the Latino community,” Crespo said.

“Many of those impacted are front-line workers, many in healthcare, low paying jobs and can’t work from home. Many of them don’t have the benefits afforded to other employees.”

“So they are the ones that are going to be contracting the virus, and taking the virus home to their loved ones, and the communities in which they live.”

Crespo said much more targeted COVID-19 outreach is needed in greater Cleveland, especially since the city has still not hired a bi-lingual contact tracer.

“Many folks don’t understand exactly what it is that the translated medical terminology means to them,” Crespo said.

“I’m appalled at the fact that the policymakers and the elected officials in the City of Cleveland particularly, have not been able to create the funding stream and the resources that are necessary to bring folks on.”

“The big hospital institutions with all their resources have also missed the mark.”

OSHA responded to our story and said it is making improvements when it comes to workplace enforcement, to protect some of the most COVID-19 vulnerable populations.

OSHA issued the following statement:

"OSHA is committed to continually improve our ability to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19 and advocate for those hit hardest by the pandemic.

As the pandemic has highlighted, OSHA’s mission is more important than ever. OSHA is focused on the work that needs to be done now to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the health and safety of all workers – including essential workers, many of whom are people of color who have put their lives on the line during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 12, OSHA issued a National Emphasis Program on COVID-19, as well as updated our Interim Enforcement Response Plan. The program focuses our enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus.

The agency is also actively recruiting to hire new compliance safety and health officers, and is committed to increasing the number of OSHA inspectors."

Still, Crespo believes more complete workplace accountability should have been established last spring for Hispanic front-line workers, and all workers who can't work remotely.

“Very low pay, no benefits, no healthcare, can’t work from home, front-line work and they get sick,” Crespo said.

"It causes us to look at how we’re viewed as dispensable, sort of throw away employees, and the numbers are starting to bear that out.”