This article first appeared in The Pilot on July 7, 2020.
The disproportionate toll of the coronavirus on people of color in Moore County has been especially pronounced in the Hispanic community.
An ethnicity-based breakdown of cases by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday morning showed that Hispanic people, despite making up only 7 percent of the county’s total population, accounted for 21 percent of the area’s reported infections. This disparity is also reflected in ZIP code-level data from NCDHHS.
About 16 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Moore County have been linked to the primary ZIP code for Robbins, a town with a historically large concentration of Hispanic residents. That postal code is home to only 5 percent of the county’s population.
The Rev. Javier Castrejón of San Juan Diego Mission in Robbins suspects many of the area’s Hispanic patients are contracting COVID-19 in the workplace.
“I’m talking with them by Facebook or phone or after mass about how we can stop this virus, but they have to work to bring meals to their children,” Castrejón told The Pilot in a recent interview. “We are giving food (from our) pantry and meals to the sick families, but other families have to go out for work, and then they get the virus.”
The median household income for Robbins is one of the lowest in Moore County. Castrejón said Hispanic residents without American citizenship were ineligible for economic impact payments through the federal CARES Act.
“They didn’t get a check,” he said.
NCDHHS recently acknowledged a “high rate of COVID-19 spread” among Hispanic and Latino communities throughout the state. The agency said many Hispanic people in North Carolina work in “environments where social distancing can be challenging, health insurance is not provided and for a sick person, staying home could create a significant financial burden.”
Most health insurance providers cover the cost of coronavirus testing, according to FirstHealth of the Carolinas, but patients without insurance are required to pay as much as $110 for a nasal-swab test. While free drive-thru testing is available by online appointment at CVS in Aberdeen, the service is limited to customers with access to a vehicle.
Castrejón would like to see COVID-19 testing offered in a location that is more accessible to people in Robbins, which is about 20 miles away from the nearest testing site.
“It’s not sufficient,” he said. “They have to drive more than 25 minutes for the test, and they are paying for the test.”
In response to an email from The Pilot inquiring about the possibility of pop-up testing in Northern Moore County, Emily Sloan of FirstHealth of the Carolinas said the company has no immediate plans to expand testing to the area.
“We currently do not have plans to open additional drive-thru testing sites, but we are willing to coordinate with county health departments and employer groups to assist with on-site testing as needed,” Sloan said.
The availability and cost of testing aren’t the only challenges in slowing the spread of the virus among Hispanic residents. None of the county’s contact tracers are bilingual, making it potentially difficult to identify individuals who may have been in close contact with Spanish-speaking patients.
Matthew Garner, public information officer for the Moore County Health Department, on Monday said the agency hopes the state will provide two bilingual contact tracers before the end of July. The county currently has four state-appointed tracers.
“Thus far for any language issues we’ve encountered, we’ve utilized the two full-time interpreters we have on staff and we haven’t had any issues yet as far as them being needed beyond their capacity,” Garner said.