Hispanic people in Bexar County are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, accounting for more than 75 percent of cases despite being only 60 percent of the total population. 

The coronavirus pandemic that has highlighted the magnitude of longstanding health inequities was the topic of conversation Tuesday during a videoconference discussion hosted by Spurs Give, the nonprofit organization of the San Antonio Spurs.

“During this pandemic we’ve seen a number of issues arise that have had a systemic foundation in equity,” said Eliana Mijangos-Brown, donor relations manager with Spurs Give who moderated the talk, citing disparities in access to the internet, food, and mental health services.

The panel that featured San Antonio Metropolitan Health District officials was an opportunity to dive into how access to health care has impacted certain neighborhoods and populations, Mijangos-Brown said.  

Dr. Goraleh Agha, Metro Health’s chief of informatics, said that COVID-19 is ravaging two Bexar County zip codes: 78202 on the East Side and 78207 on the West Side, where there are higher rates of low-income residents and people of color, and higher numbers of people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19.

Zip code 78202 has between 151 and 310 cases, while 78207 has more than 311, according to Metro Health data, but Agha said the severity of the disease for people in those zip codes is higher than others, and is directly tied to socioeconomic disparities and racial and ethnic disparities.

Black and Hispanic people in San Antonio also have higher rates of diabetic hospitalizations and amputations, and diabetes is the main underlying health condition for 60 percent of COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Bexar County, Agha said.

Reports on poverty also show that racial and ethnic minorities and those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged rely on public transportation to get to work, Agha said, which increases their risk of being exposed to the coronavirus.

“You’re not necessarily free from the risk of getting the virus in the first place, but disparities in that risk are also present,” she said.

Agha was joined on the panel by Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger, who is the interim director of Metro Health, and Talli Dolge, CEO of Jewish Family Services, which provides mental health services to children and adults, including people who are uninsured.  

In addition to existing disparities, the risk of children developing adverse childhood experiences during this time is heightened, Bridger said, and there is a connection between childhood trauma and increased risk for chronic disease and mental health issues in adulthood.

“I worry about our kids from a child abuse perspective, and I also worry about kids whose parents may get very ill or even die, and the traumatic effect it may have on them,” Bridger said, “and we are also seeing.an increase in cases and hospitalizations for our pediatric population, which includes those under age 18.” 

Dolge said that household dysfunction is also considered an adverse childhood experience and may be especially prevalent during the coronavirus pandemic when children are not at school and families have to balance work and school demands.

“There is a shift in the understanding of the need for mental health services” since there had been such a large focus on physical health for so long, Dolge said. “And right now, COVID-19 is bringing to light a much bigger picture” because by this point in the pandemic everyone has experienced some kind of adverse experience or trauma. 

Bridger said that the pandemic has brought about an increased need for people to be “compassionate and empathetic with those around us,” which will be of increased importance as schools work toward a return to in-person instruction.

“The culture here in the United States is built on being tough as nails, and part of being tough as nails means if you don’t feel 100 percent you still show up and you still do the work,” Bridger said. “But unfortunately, that plays to our disadvantage with COVID-19, because it is so contagious” and it is adversely impacting certain populations.

“COVID-19 is a great equalizer, because everybody can get affected [and] the virus doesn’t discriminate,” Agha said. “But even the probability of infection is determined by your socioeconomic status.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.