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‘It represents all of the inequities:’ Latinos disproportionately affected by COVID-19

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Armida Ramos, owner of La Michoacana Ice Cream
A sign asking people to keep their distance

MADISON (WKOW) -- At every turn inside La Michoacana Ice Cream's east side location, reminders of the COVID-19 pandemic are present.

X's marked with black tape appear six feet apart, messages scrawled on notebook paper appear outside and on the counter reminding customers masks are required and only 10 people can be inside at once.

Even the daily special board serves as another reminder to socially distance.

"We are just having a lot of precautions, you know, just to keep people safe," said owner, Armida Ramos. "Keep their distance, wear a mask, and take the orders to go only, not eat in here."

Ramos said the pandemic has slowed business to a crawl during what is already a difficult time -- running an ice cream shop during a Wisconsin winter. In addition to the original west side location, Ramos said she has had to delay plans to open a third location in Middleton.

What she hopes to do in the meantime is keep her business alive and help others to survive the pandemic -- one that has had an outsized impact on Latinos in Dane County.

"A lot of Latinos, they work in restaurants, hotels, cleaning departments," Ramos said. "They are getting the more (high) risk jobs to do."

The December 10 weekly snapshot from Public Health Madison & Dane County stated Latino/Hispanic residents accounted for 16 percent of the county's COVID-19 cases despite making up just six percent of the population. In the previous snapshot, it was 17 percent; the one before that, 19 percent.

PHMDC confirmed earlier this week Wisconsin's youngest known COVID-19 death was Isai Morocho, a 16-year-old student at Madison East High School.

The Latino Health Council, which branches off UW Health, agreed with Ramos' assessment that Latino residents were more likely to work jobs that put them at greater risk.

"It represents all of the inequities we've been talking about for so long and we've been seeing in so many different areas," said Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, a Madison alder and co-chair of the health council.

The council's leaders said those economic disparities translate to Latino workers having to indeed take on more high-risk occupations.

"Our community has to work jobs that are essential so they have to leave their homes to be able to go to work," said council co-chair Dr. Patricia Tellez-Giron. "They cannot do their job at home."

The council said the economic disparities also mean Hispanic families more likely to live in higher-risk settings: multi-generational families crowding units in higher-density complexes. Tellez-Giron said immigration status also factors into the imbalance.

"We have a large percentage of our communities that are undocumented and they will not benefit for unemployment or the stimulus checks," Tellez-Giron said.

The council has worked with Spanish-speaking media outlets to arrange question-and-answer segments for people to learn about the virus and how to minimize their risks. It also partners with small businesses, who can extend the message to people more likely to trust the shops they frequent.

"They can also educate customers that come to those businesses around issues of protecting our communities and ourselves," Bidar-Sielaff said.

The council said with the recent approvals of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it would work to expand its message to tout the vaccines' safety and to demand equal access to inoculation for Latino residents in high-risk categories.

For Ramos, the vaccines' approval gives hope the taped-on X's will give way to the tables that once stood there for people hoping to have a scoop, a popsicle or even some hot street corn inside.

"I see more people taking a lot of responsibilities; they wear the mask, they keep their distance," she said. "I see more people taking this situation more seriously."

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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