WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, was joined by state lawmakers and local health officials Monday for a virtual discussion on the impact of COVID-19 in communities of color.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus
Panelists discussed underlying health and social inequities that put many racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick, having more severe illness and dying from COVID-19.
Dr. Kitonga Kiminyo said Black residents in Palm Beach County represent about 14 percent of the total coronavirus cases in the county.
However, Kiminyo said that figure jumps to about 25 percent of the patients hospitalized for COVID-19 identify themselves as Black. He said about 18 percent of the coronavirus deaths in Palm Beach County are Black residents.
"Either way you look at it, there has been a disproportionate number when you are looking at people who identify themselves as Black when it comes to COVID," Kiminyo said. "That is not only what we're seeing in the hospitals, that's not only what we're seeing with complications from COVID, we're seeing it also comes to vaccinating."
COVID-19 has also impacted Latino residents at a high rate as well.
Dr. Elena Rios, president and CEO of the Hispanic Medical Association, said this is likely due to many of these residents working in jobs deemed "essential."
"They don't have the luxury of working from home," Rios said. "The intergenerational living ... many of our communities can't afford to send people to nursing homes, very expensive. Our grandparents then end up living with our adult children."
Registered nurse Wilma Jones with the Palm Beach Black Nurses Association said consideration should be made to expand times that vaccines are available to accommodate workers.
Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, outlined some of the barriers they are facing in vaccinating underserved communities.
"The issue of trust always comes up, whether it's undocumented or people of faith that just have different belief systems and are very reluctant to go to certain places they aren't familiar [with]. They don't know who they are," Alonso said.
Dr. Lorena Bonilla said the trust issues regarded the vaccines could be mitigated by having people of similar backgrounds go out into the Hispanic communities to educate them.
"There are programs in Colorado where they use promotores de salud, and they are women from the community who are paid to offer education. These can be college students who can be instructed to offer vaccine education," Bonilla said.
Palm Beach County Health Care District CEO Darcey Davis said the goal is to get 70 percent herd immunity through vaccines. She said hopefully mass vaccination sites will allow for more doses to be distributed.
Other ways of vaccinating minorities discussed during the discussion included using mobile units similar to buses used for blood drives.
"It's not just enough to distribute the vaccine. We have to equitably distribute it, so that's what we've been making sure we do, that we get it into our communities," Alonso said.
The latest data released Monday showed there have been more than 120,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Palm Beach County since last year.