Crowded houses: Impact of coronavirus on a Latino family
With the number of Latinos affected by coronavirus making up 75 percent of the cases in Sonoma County, it’s not surprising that some of those cases are in the Sonoma Valley. While east county -- Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Sonoma -- has as of June 23 only 7 percent of the county’s total of 935 cases, that number looks bigger when you break it down: 65 people in east county have contracted coronavirus, and the pattern suggests that most of them are Latinos.
One local Latina woman -- referred to in this story as Miranda; she declined to use her real name -- spoke to the Index-Tribune about COVID in the Latino community.
“I don't know anyone personally that has it. I only hear rumors and I hear people talking that someone has it, but I personally don't know anyone,” said Miranda, a Springs resident.
No one, that is, except her daughter and herself.
Miranda, 42, had been working in the restaurant industry, but all the restaurants closed on March 18 with the shelter-in-place order. So to keep some money coming into the household, she took up the offer of a friend who suggested she help with a housecleaning job. Miranda spent two hours, at $20 an hour, to clean a San Francisco couple’s weekend home off Grove Street.
Two days later, she came down with symptoms.
“It was a Friday and I started having a headache, cough, and body aches,” she said. “Every time I coughed, I had throat pain. I had headache, chills, sweats, body ache –and I couldn’t smell or taste anything.”
Two days after that, her 17-year-old daughter (the middle in a family of three children) also came down with symptoms, though she never complained of body aches. They were tested at the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center, which at the time was testing symptomatic people – their public testing program didn’t begin until May 20. Up until that time, said Cheryl Johnson, CEO of the SVCHC, they tested 130 symptomatic people, of whom eight were positive - three from Sonoma Valley.
The tests for Miranda and her daughter came up positive. The county requested that the rest of the family get tested too, but since they had no symptoms they had to go to the county health lab on Chanate Road in Santa Rosa for their tests. The rest of the family were negative.
The family of five lives in a 3-bedroom duplex in the Boyes Hot Springs area near Highway 12, and while they don’t suffer from the same over-crowded conditions that many face in the Latino community, it’s still always a struggle.
The Miranda’s family apartment rents for $2,600, and they were fortunate that the father did not fall ill, too, and was still able to go to his job in permaculture. During their period of quarantine, he slept on the porch and for the most part lived in his car, so he could continue working.
“If there’s anything in our Latino community that’s important, it’s having a place to live,” said Patricia Galindo, client services coordinator at the nonprofit La Luz Center, which serves and advocates for the Sonoma Valley Latino community. (Galindo served as translator for the Index-Tribune’s conversation with Miranda.)
“People talk about Latinos not paying attention to taking care of themselves right now, but it's not because we're being stubborn. It's not because we don't want to listen. It's because we have to pay bills,” said Miranda. “We have to pay our rent. We have to pay many things. We have so many bills.
“So it's not because we don't want to listen to the warnings about not socializing – we're not staying at home because we have many bills to pay, and we don't have the same advantages that other people have,” said Miranda, referring to disability and unemployment insurance or other government assistance.
Many Latino families – though not Miranda’s family – double-up on rentals so their combined income can meet the household bills. It’s the overcrowded homes that probably present the greatest liability for Sonoma’s families in the health crisis.
According to the county’s Fair Housing Survey neighborhood profiles, the Agua Caliente/Fetters neighborhood is 69 percent Latino – among the highest in the county. “The neighborhood has a much higher rate of households who rent than the County at large,” reads the 2019 report. “Households in the neighborhood have a slightly higher rate of overcrowding, substandard living conditions, and face a higher cost burden than the County at large - especially renters.”