Why the Latin American community in Toronto has been hit hard by COVID


Toronto (Reuters) – In a pandemic that has hit marginalized people hardest, Latin Americans in Canada’s largest urban area have been particularly at risk: They’re more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than any other ethnoracial group, according to the most recent data available from the city of Toronto.

They work front-line jobs, live in often crowded homes, use public transit and are often reluctant to seek out care – possibly because of precarious immigration status, advocates say.

As of March 31, the most recent data available, Latin Americans in Toronto had a COVID-19 hospitalization rate of 307 per 100,000, almost four times higher than white people in the city. The city does not track COVID-19 deaths by ethnicity.

For 9-year-old Lizbetha León, it started with the feeling she had “fire coming out of my eyes” as her lungs closed.

Her mother, Lizbeth León Adame, put her to bed with tea and Tylenol, but when she was no better the following morning they went to hospital.

By the time the positive coronavirus results came back, the whole family – 31-year-old León Adame, her eldest Jesùs and middle child Isabella – were sick.

“We were like vampires,” 13-year-old Jesùs said, describing how they had to have the blinds drawn and were barely eating.

This was early April, the thick of a punishing third wave in Canada’s most populous province.

Now, as the region begins to emerge from this wave and seeks to stave off another, health workers are rushing to immunize people like the Leóns who don’t always get care.

Some people’s impulse is to try and tough out an illness rather than seek care early, said Ruben Rodriguez, vaccine lead at Humber River Hospital and an advocate for COVID-19 prevention and vaccination for the Latin American community.

He added that many are afraid to go to hospital “where COVID is.”

There’s also the issue of immigration status: some Latin Americans in Toronto and the neighboring Peel region may be wary of trying to access public services for fear of being turned away or turned in to authorities.

“The last thing you want is to be noticed,” said Natalia Durango, coordinator of the Latin American COVID Task Force.

Health workers and community organizers put together a pop-up weekend vaccine clinic targeted at the Latin American community. “The demand is huge,” said Durango, who came to Canada 12 years ago as a refugee from Colombia.

León Adame was planning on going. But she wishes there had been better public health communication in languages other than English. Wishes she had known kids could catch the coronavirus, too.

“It was the most horrible I had ever felt. And knowing they were feeling the same pain, that was horrible.”

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