It’s fairly well known that Rock County’s Latinos account for more than their share of coronavirus cases.

One of many factors that could have accelerated the spread in that group was those people’s bosses.

Ian Hedges of the Janesville-based free clinic HealthNet of Rock County spoke Thursday night during an online discussion of racial disparities and the pandemic in Rock County.

Hedges said some undocumented workers have told HealthNet workers that when they call in sick, their bosses have threatened to expose them to immigration authorities if they don’t come to work.

“It’s well-documented. Probably every one our staff members has seen it,” Hedges said after the meeting.

Hedges said HealthNet will provide patients a doctor’s note, saying they are being tested for the coronavirus and should stay home at least until results are known.

The notes help, but only sometimes, Hedges said.

The discussion was presented by the Diversity Action Team of Rock County, YWCA of Rock County, Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties, Beloit NAACP, Hedberg Public Library, and UW Extension.

Hedges said some HealthNet clients were reluctant to get tested because they didn’t understand early government orders for people to stay home when possible. They wondered if they might get pulled over and deported if they left their homes.

Others were intimidated by police at a testing site, Hedges said, even though the police probably were there only to direct traffic.

Also speaking was Nick Zupan, an epidemiologist with the Rock County Public Health Department, who gave updated statistics on coronavirus cases as they have affected Latino and Black residents:

  • Hispanics/Latinos make up 9.1% of the county’s population but account for 28% of COVID-19 cases.
  • Out of 2,540 Rock County Hispanics/Latinos who have been tested, 492 had positive results for a 19% positivity rate. The overall Rock County rate is just 5.9%.

Latinos were hospitalized for COVID-19 10.84% of the time versus 12.61% for non-Latinos. Zupan said his data doesn’t say why, but he wondered if local Latinos have less access to health care than others.The COVID-19 mortality rate is 1.42% for Latinos and 1.72% for non-Latinos. Zupan said those numbers do not suggest a major disparity.

  • Black people comprise 5.3% of the county population but 10.6% of COVID-19 cases.
  • Of 2,027 Black residents who have been tested in the county, 176 have tested positive for an 8.6% positivity rate, also higher than the overall county rate but not as high as for Latinos. Zupan said this disparity is also seen with other diseases.

Beloit College professor Ron Watson, who has been involved in coronavirus endeavors, said one reason for the disparities is that members of minorities comprise a high percentage of “essential workers” who have a lot of contact with the public.

Close family ties also might play a role, Watson said.

Hedges said many HealthNet patients who caught the disease were family members living with others who were infected.

The event included an interview recorded with an undocumented single mother who has lost work because of the pandemic. She told YWCA Outreach Program Director Ginna Isunza that she does not qualify for many government programs but that she has gotten help with food, gasoline and rent, mostly from the YWCA but also the Salvation Army.

The YWCA has connected the woman to an immigration attorney, and she is waiting for a work permit, she said.

The YWCA is raising money to help those in need through a GoFundMe page, ywcarockcounty .org/immigrant-relief-fund..