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Latino leaders call for increased testing, workplace protections to stop community spread

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MADISON (WKOW) -- While the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests is declining in Wisconsin, the Latino community continues to see its cases climb.

Dr. Patricia Tellez-Giron is a doctor in UW-Health's Department of Family Medicine and Community Health and the co-chair of Madison's Latino Health Council. To her, the spike in cases is no surprise.

"This definitely highlighted the health disparities that we have and makes them even worse," she said.

Even before COVID-19, Tellez-Guiron said Wisconsin's Latino community had poor healthcare access compared to the rest of the state.

"We have people in poverty, language issues, people that are living in very small apartments," she said. "We have people who have to go to work in places where they are not provided the right equipment to work."

Latinos represent about 7 percent of Wisconsin's population, but as of May 11, they account for 30 percent of the state's COVID-19 cases.

Tellez-Giron said Dane County's community has fared better than many other parts of the state.

"Exactly because of the strategies that we had established over the years," she said.

She said Madison's Latino community has been able to find help through Centro Hispano and the relief fund they established for those who lost their jobs any may not qualify for federal or state assistance.

Tellez-Giron is also appearing on weekly information sessions on La Movida, Madison's Spanish language station to answer questions related to COVID-19.

Still, Bianca Tomasini with Voces de la Frontera said local efforts can only go so far. To stop the spread, she said the Latino community needs action from the state.

"Voces de la Frontera has been advocating at the state level to get companies to provide safer working conditions for their workers," she said.

Tomasini said the matter became even more urgent after two Latino meat-plant workers died from COVID-19.

"They're very hardworking and they'll continue to go to work until they are sick that's why we need to advocate for their protection," she said.

The Department of Health Services has begun free community testing in minority communities and is hiring more bilingual contact tracers, but Tellez-Giron said it's only a start.

"I think that these needed to happen months ago," she said. "[They need to start] providing more education, more testing, providing more resources to the factories to the places where we were working and forcing more social distancing."

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Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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