How Bensenville is tackling high COVID-19 rates among Hispanic residents
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, one suburb is seeing some daylight in counteracting the "heartbreaking" toll of the respiratory disease on Hispanic residents, but significant challenges remain.
For months, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has reported minority communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
On a per capita basis, there are about 9,633 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 Hispanic Illinoisans compared to 5,811 cases per 100,000 white Illinoisans, based on U.S. Census and Illinois Department of Public Health data.
That's why on any given day in Bensenville, COVID-19 outreach coordinator Delany Castaneda is visiting the village's Latino community, handing out face masks and hand sanitizer, providing testing and vaccine information, and scheduling building disinfections.
An informal survey of 200 Hispanic residents who'd had contact with the outreach program showed 64% had tested positive for the respiratory disease, Castaneda said. Causes include unsafe working conditions, crowded living spaces and low-income jobs that involve a lot of contact with others.
Recently, a Bensenville factory worker called her, concerned that COVID-19 is not being "'taken seriously at all and cases are skyrocketing,'" Castaneda recounted. "She really needs this job, so she doesn't want to quit, but she's scared. Nobody wears masks. They don't really respect social distancing.
"That was heartbreaking to hear that's actually a thing," Castaneda said. She is working with the DuPage County Health Department to resolve the problem.
Based on population, the COVID-19 infection rate in Cook County is 4,488 cases per 100,000 white residents, 5,627 cases per 100,000 Black residents and 9,572 per 100,000 Hispanic residents, the Cook County Department of Public Health notes.
In DuPage County, the COVID-19 infection rate is 10,508 cases per 100,000 Hispanic residents, and 4,496 per 100,000 non-Hispanic residents, the DuPage County Health Department reports.
Bensenville's COVID-19 outreach program is funded through the federal CARES Act and was channeled through DuPage County.
"The county recognized that Bensenville's Latino population was among the hardest hit and agreed with my plan to make a direct and immediate intervention in that community," Village Manager Evan Summers said.
"At the time of the application, DuPage's Hispanic/Latino population was 3.8 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than non-Hispanic/Latino," he said. "Currently, they are 2.3 times more likely.
"While we obviously can't attribute this decrease solely to Bensenville's outreach efforts, it's important that we are spending the resources where they are needed most to help get on the other side of this nightmare."
The village used the grant to contract with the not-for-profit DuPage Area Project, where Castaneda works.
Since late 2020, she has networked with local Hispanic-based grocery stores to set up information booths outside to distribute masks and hand sanitizer plus contact information. The village has a Facebook page at Bensenville-Outreach-COVID19.
One challenge is finding transportation for people without cars to get to testing sites and vaccination clinics.
While many residents appreciate the advice, "some are hesitant about the information we give them on testing sites," Castaneda said. Some comments include, "'I don't need that information. I'm not going to get sick. I have remedies at home,' or things like that."
But "a lot of the comments we get are: 'Wow, thank you so much for reaching out -- I feel a lot safer.'"
Asked about the resistance, Castaneda said she's learned that "as immigrants, a lot of times you feel like you've been through the worst. When something like (the COVID-19 pandemic) happens -- it's not that you're naive to it, but it's like you have this mentality that you're invincible, it's not the worst thing that happened. That mentality can lead to taking it lightly."