COCHISE COUNTY — Hispanics have the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Cochise County, health officials say, and the cause is not unique to this area, but instead has become a national concern.

As of July 2, Cochise County reported 684 cases of the virus. Of those, 363 — more than half — were Hispanic residents.

And while the age of the affected individuals is not reported, the county’s coronavirus statistics show that the age group with the highest number of cases is among people who are between 20 and 44. The county’s Health and Human Services department said people in that age range accounted for 274 cases of the virus.

Carrie Langley, Director of the Cochise County Health and Human Services Department and Ryan Kashanipour, Scholar In Residence and an associate professor at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona, agreed that a lack of healthcare and socioeconomic conditions are the most likely culprits behind the high numbers of COVID-19 in this ethnic group.

Both Langley and Kashanipour said that among Hispanics nationwide, many hold lower-end jobs where they cannot afford to stay home if they become ill. As a result, they often work when they’re ill and can then spread the virus to other family members and co-workers.

“There are several issues at play here,” Langley said Thursday. “We see nationwide, the social determinants of health are huge factors in virus exposure and in outcomes. With our communities, many individuals in our Hispanic population are younger, the 20-40 age group. These are individuals out working in positions (where they) could not stay at home.”

Kashanipour agreed, saying that most people who are between 20 to 44 are of working age.

“A lot of them can’t afford to stay home, or work from home (if they’re ill),” he said. “If you look a little bit deeper, you’ll find that there is very little access to health care.”

Kashanipour likened some Hispanics to poor, Black populations in the southern United States who also have low-paying jobs and little health care.

He said many Hispanics in the state have other underlying health issues such as diabetes and obesity, and those individuals are more prone to be affected by the virus.

In an article in the New York Times in May, Daniel Lopez-Cevallos, professor of Latino and Health Equity Studies at Oregon State University, said Hispanics who live in states with older, established communities tend to have better jobs and better health care that can carry them through a pandemic. But those living in states with fledgling Hispanic communities do not have that support or opportunity.

Lopez-Cevallos also said in the article that epidemiologists around the country are beginning to look at the issue as more virus cases surge among both Hispanics and Black populations.

As for Cochise County’s situation, Langley said there is still much work ahead.

“We are working diligently to gather complete demographic data during each case investigation, as this will help to better inform public health strategies,” Langley said. “There is still more work to be done.”

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