The concerns of COVID-19 are on the minds of many Americans.
In the Latino community, the concern is heightened. Latinos are three times more likely to get the virus, according to a Johns Hopkins study. Latino voters recently named the novel coronavirus as a top concern during a Pew Research study.
A California doctor has taken a proactive approach to help his community in the state’s Central Valley stop the spread of the disease and help prevent the economic distress the virus can bring.
California’s Central Valley, also known as the “Bread Basket of America,” is where most of the food in the United States comes from. It is here where thousands of Latinos work under extreme conditions like triple degree heat, poor air quality, and long hours to put food on your table.
The California Department of Public Health shows that nearly half of the deaths in the Central Valley area from the Latino community. They also account for more than 60 percent of the cases.
“If there is no one to pick in the fields, if there is not one to pack the meat, which feeds a majority of the country, then the whole country would definitely feel it,” said Dr. Juan Bautista, the medical director at Bautista Medical Center.
Dr. Bautista is part of the 60 percent of Latinos that got the virus. Although being relatively healthy, his underlying asthma condition made fighting the virus tough. He was hospitalized for six days.
Dr. Bautista says Latinos are high-risk because of the prevalence of diabetes and asthma in the community.
“Diabetes places a major factor, not just in your immune system, but also your response to the medications we give with COVID,” he explained.
Medications like Dexamethasone can cause patients’ blood sugar to rise. For a diabetic patient, this medication can have bad side effects or even be taken off the table as a form of treatment due to the risks.
Reina Gonzalez spent an entire month over the summer on a ventilator. She is a breast cancer survivor, and now, a survivor of this deadly virus. On Tuesday, she was celebrating her granddaughter’s first birth. Months after her initial diagnosis and release from the hospital, she is still unable to work due to her physical condition.
“When I start moving or walking or any minimum exercise, my pulse races up a lot and my heart,” described Gonzalez.
She feels fortunate to be able to apply for workers' compensation to help pay for her medical bills, but most of Dr. Bautista’s patients aren’t as fortunate.
Dr. Bautista says the average cost of a test in the Central Valley is between $200 to $280. In an effort to increase testing, Dr. Bautista is now offering free, rapid testing at his practice. He and his staff are available every weekday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., an optimal time for working families. The testing is free and turns out results in 30 minutes or less.
Fast test results are critical in this underserved community. It slows down the spread of the disease because people are not returning to work as they wait for test results.
“They are not willing to miss work,” said Dr. Bautista, regarding the financial need of his patients.
During this time, Dr. Bautista says he has learned medicine isn’t the only thing he needs in order to help his patients. He now finds himself educating them on social services available to them.
During the rapids test sessions, programs offering financial aid to those who test positive are offered. The next issue to tackle when it comes to the impact of the virus is the long-term health complications many are left with.
“We are starting to learn now that this, although it may have a low death rate the disability it brings, is definitely significant,” he said.
With a high survival rate, many will need long-term care, leaving a community that has been disproportionately attacked by this virus with possibly decades of chronic health care issues.