HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Eighteen months into the COVID-19 pandemic in Texas, one thing is certain: we have lost too many people we love, especially in the Hispanic and Latino communities.
Hispanics and Latinos make up 39.7% of our state's population, yet represent 37% of confirmed COVID-19 cases and 45.7% of confirmed COVID-19 deaths, according to state data as of Aug. 27.
"We are not learning our lessons... we keep having patients coming to us, and they're coming to us primarily because they are unvaccinated with COVID," Dr. Joseph Varon said.
Thursday, Eyewitness News anchor Mayra Moreno gathered medical experts and community leaders for a town hall in English and Spanish, highlighting how the virus continues to disproportionately impact Hispanics and Latinos.
Our town hall panelists included:
- Diana Look, Sanitas Medical Center nurse practitioner
- Dr. Joseph Varon, United Memorial Medical Center's chief of critical care
- Dr. Laura Murillo, Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president and CEO
- Susie Molina, Houston Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Board
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Hispanics and Latinos in the U.S. have experienced the highest rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations across all ethnic groups, according to CDC data.
While recent data suggests a narrowing of the racial gap in vaccinations, Varon said misinformation and even cultural differences are still keeping too many people from getting jabbed.
"I have nurses in the middle of the day just cry on my shoulder and say, 'Dr. Varon, I mean, we just lost this young Hispanic guy and guess what? There are three more in the ER waiting to be admitted to the same bed,'" Varon said. "It's one of the saddest things I've seen in my career."
COVID-19 Vaccine Resources
- City of Houston COVID-19 vaccination sites and registration
- Harris Co. COVID-19 vaccine registration
- Harris Co. COVID-19 vaccine sites
- Texas COVID-19 Vaccine Information
Molina, who lost her 72-year-old mother last year to COVID-19, said she's watched the virus spread rapidly among younger people she knows, recently costing a 40-year-old former classmate his life.
"It's hard to lose someone that way, where you don't get to say goodbye. I think about my dad often. When you spend 52 years of your life with someone, you probably don't expect to say goodbye that way," she said. "I would implore people to really be careful, be aware of how your actions can impact other people."
During Thursday's town hall, we got answers to some of the questions you submitted to us. Here is what we learned:
Q:Why are Hispanics and Latinos among the hardest hit by COVID-19?
A: From the outset of the virus, the CDC has reported higher prevalence of comorbidities like diabetes and heart disease in Hispanics and Latinos, putting these communities at greater risk for COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Varon and Molina both mentioned these communities are very family-oriented, and therefore have a culture of gathering together in close proximity for birthdays, weddings and holidays.
When you pair that with hesitancy to getting vaccinated, which Look said she saw at her medical center earlier this year, all of our experts said a rise in COVID-19 infections was predicted in these communities.
Q: What recommendations do you have for staying healthy during the pandemic?
A: Our town hall panelists hoped to drive home three important tips Thursday night:
- Get vaccinated. Varon said he's seen a lot of hesitancy over fears of feeling sick due to the immune response from the vaccine. He said the choice is simple: "You feel sick for a day or two, or (without the vaccine) you may die."
- Avoid large gatherings. Varon said the CONCACAF Semifinal game Mexico vs Canada in Houston in July created "a giant petri dish" of COVID-19 infections as 73,000 people watched the game at NGR Stadium, many without wearing masks. "Three weeks after that game, I can tell you that my number of admissions to the hospital skyrocketed," he said.
- Get an oximeter. "They're very inexpensive. You can find them for anywhere from 10 bucks, 20 bucks, and have that as you would a thermometer in your house," Molina said. "It's just a little device that that tracks your oxygen, and it's key, you know. I almost feel like from now on, if I ever travel, I'll have it with me."
Q: Should we be concerned about certain variants more than others?
A: Thousands of variants have been identified by the medical community. Dr. Varon said while delta has proven to be about 10 times more contagious, with a shorter incubation time and a higher mortality rate, all variants should be of concern to Texans. "Get vaccinated," he urged.
Q: What is going to come of the booster shots?
A: Varon predicts boosters will become a required annual jab, much like a flu shot, to address the most prevalent variant at that time.