People of color have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic nationwide due to long-standing inequities in the healthcare system, and in recent months those disparities appear to have grown worse in New Hampshire.
Hispanic and Latino residents represent 3.9 percent of New Hampshire's population, but they account for 11.6 percent of the state's total coronavirus infections with known racial information, according to the latest available data from state health officials. That's up from about 7 percent in April. Racial data is known for about 71 percent of coronavirus infections and about 93 percent of hospitalizations.
Lisa Vasquez, who works in Nashua's COVID-19 testing clinics, says much of her city's Latinx population includes essential workers who are not able to work from home or take time off. Those individuals tend to be at higher risk of getting COVID-19 as cases surge.
"I've heard from a lot of people that do maintenance or cleaning that the amount of work that theyre being asked to do is almost unmanageable," Vasquez said, "because they're having less staff but they're also having to do it much more extensively, which might put them at risk."
Many in the Latinx community also live in multigenerational households, she added.
"That's I think where we're seeing a little bit of a spike," Vasquez said. "Those homes with six, seven, eight people are more likely to spread that virus."
Latinx people also make up a disproportionate share of New Hampshire's COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to state data. Right now, they account for 10.7 percent of hospitalizations where race or ethnicity data is known, up from about 8 percent in April.
Bobbie Bagley, who directs public health and community services in Nashua, says "there are a lot of structural barriers" driving heightened hospitalizations for New Hampshire's Lantinx community, including challenges accessing testing and navigating medical care across language divides.
"What we see with the hospitalizations is that it's because they get into services later," Bagley said. "They may either wait, they can't get in, they can't get tested."
Nashua recently received additional state funding to hire two new community health workers to address the pandemic's disproportionate impact on local communities of color. Their work will include more outreach and education around COVID-19 in general but also around specific topics like contact tracing, where they've encountered challenges because of cultural differences in how, for example, someone defines a "close contact."
Bagley says Nashua is looking to hire people who are proficient in Portuguese, Swahili and other African languages, areas where the department is currently lacking.