Washington County Latinx community disproportionately affected by COVID-19

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Sponsored by: Health and Human Services Department

In a virtual press conference earlier today, Washington County announced that nearly half of the people (49%) who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Washington County identify as Hispanic. The county’s overall Hispanic population is 16.5%. 

“We are concerned that these numbers are nearly three times higher than you might expect if this disease were impacting all of our community members equally,” said Health and Human Services Director Marni Kuyl. “This pandemic brings into sharp focus the systemic social, economic and health inequities that many of our Latinx residents already face.” 

Many in Washington County’s Latinx community work in essential jobs that keep the economy moving and the rest of the community safe, increasing their exposure risk. Nearly 60% of the county’s Latinx community members who tested positive for COVID-19 work in health care, outdoor labor, factory/warehouse work, food service or grocery stores.

“Latino families that have been experiencing food insecurity and housing instability long before the crisis are further ravaged by the economic realities of COVID-19,” said Maria Caballero Rubio, executive director of Centro Cultural, the county’s oldest culturally specific organization serving low- income and immigrant families to become self-sufficient, empowered and active community members. “Ironically, those who can work are overrepresented in ‘essential’ work sites and exposed to the virus daily, and many who have lost work cannot apply for unemployment insurance or other safety net benefits even if they have been American taxpayers for decades.”

Washington County is the second most populous county among Oregon’s 36 counties. It is the most diverse county with 17% of residents born outside of the U.S. and 24% who speak a language other than English at home.  

The County is committed to equity and is collaborating with community partners to address disparities in health outcomes. This includes reaching out to those who live in the county year-round and also preparing for the arrival of thousands of migrant farm workers who often live and work in close contact and are at high risk for virus transmission. 

“We’re working quickly to remobilize outreach to vineyard workers, where we will provide COVID-19 screening, education and follow-up care, in addition to the wellness screenings we’ve delivered for 30 years,” said Leda Garside, service manager and cultural liaison of ¡Salud!, a mobile operation founded by Oregon winemakers and OHSU Health Hillsboro Medical Center (formerly Tuality Healthcare) physicians to provide onsite health education and care for regional farmworkers.

Additional efforts by Washington County to reach impacted community members include:

  • Working with community health centers to make sure testing is prioritized and available for communities of color and those without health insurance.
  • Running ads on Spanish-language radio stations to educate essential workers.
  • Conducting public health outreach and contact tracing in Spanish and other languages as needed.
  • Developing recommendations for growers to protect farm workers. 
  • Converting a local motel to shelter space for houseless residents recovering from COVID-19.
  • Providing business assistance programs focused on supporting underserved and small businesses.

More information about Washington County’s response to the pandemic is available at www.co.washington.or.us/covid-19. A link to the regional data dashboard with more information is on that web page as well.

Washington County
Mary Sawyers, 503-726-6459  

Centro Cultural
Juan Carlos Gonzalez, 503-536-2698

OHSU Health Hillsboro Medical Center and ¡Salud!
Liz Layman, 503-708-5955