June 14, 2020
  • News

First half of June brings increased spread of COVID-19

U of U Health and Mobile Wellness Bus set up for the free COVID-19 testing event held in May at the Utah State Fairpark.  354 people were tested at this event.  Photos courtesy of SLCtv Media First half of June brings increased spread of COVID-19
U of U Health and Mobile Wellness Bus set up for the free COVID-19 testing event held in May at the Utah State Fairpark.  354 people were tested at this event.  Photos courtesy of SLCtv Media||||| U of U Health and Mobile Wellness Bus set up for the free COVID-19 testing event held in May at the Utah State Fairpark. 354 people were tested at this event. Photos courtesy of SLCtv Media||||| |||||
By Charlotte Fife-Jepperson

Around the U.S., COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting communities of color.

That is true here in Utah, as well. West Valley City and Salt Lake City’s West Side have had the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the state and it is affecting Latino, Pacific Islander, American Indian and Black communities at higher rates, according to the Utah and Salt Lake County Health Depts.

State Senator Luz Escamilla, whose district includes Salt Lake City’s West Side and West Valley, said, “[The pandemic] is the perfect storm for Latinos.”

She said that many Latinos in Utah live in areas where there is poor air quality and a lack of affordable housing. Many cannot work from home, and they may not have a full understanding of various health orders due to language barriers.

West-side resident, Maria de Lourdes Sanchez, said in a virtual community meeting in May that some of the Latino families she knows who are infected with COVID-19 have been told to isolate at home and to monitor their symptoms, but they do not have thermometers and first-aid supplies such as Tylenol, Vick’s Vapo Rub, or alcohol. They also need masks, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

“This situation is very hard, not only here, but also in Mexico. I have experienced it with my own family having to go to work to be able to eat. Most of the people who have to live day-to-day are risking so much,” she said.

Sanchez’ own father died of COVID-19 in Mexico, and she is trying to help these families who are struggling with the virus.

Escamilla said, “Your zip code almost determines your medical outcome.”  Salt Lake City zip codes 84116 and 84104 (Salt Lake City’s West Side) have continuously shown some of the highest COVID-19 numbers in the state of Utah, according to the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office, https://www.slc.gov/mayor/covid-19/.

Escamilla, who lives in Rose Park, started feeling sick a couple of days after the 2020 Utah Legislative session ended. She tested positive for the COVD-19 virus a few days later, and her husband and 5-year-old daughter ended up contracting the virus as well.

Escamilla said her diagnosis was “scary at first.” They were told to isolate, and then the contact tracing began. “They asked us everywhere we had been recently, such as restaurants, and asked for names and phone numbers for every person we had been in contact with.”

Even though Escamilla understood why the health department needed all that information, she felt uncomfortable. “It’s very invasive,” she said. “Imagine if you were undocumented and you don’t trust the government – the paranoia sets in.”

On top of that, many low-income individuals who have tested positive with the virus, are also facing housing and food insecurity.

After seeing the data in April about high COVID-19 case rates in communities of color, Escamilla and the five other Utah legislators of color (Representatives Angela Romero, Sandra Hollins, Karen Kwan, Mark Wheatly and Senator Jani Iwamoto) put their heads together to help address the huge strain on communities of color most affected by the pandemic.

They created the COVID Community Partnership to increase access to COVID-19 testing; to provide support in the areas of food, housing and utilities; to collect adequate and accurate data about the virus, and improve communication, culturally and linguistically, with these communities.

The idea is to expand and support the work that the partners – the State of Utah, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City and U of U Health – are already doing, said Escamilla.

The key component of the program is utilizing community health workers, or “cultural brokers” as Escamilla put it, to assess the needs of individuals who test positive for COVID-19.

Program funding goes to the Office of Health Disparities at the Utah Dept. of Health, who then subcontract with a number of ethnic community based organizations, which hire or already have staff that are community health workers.

Another component is increasing access to testing. Free testing events took place in “hot spots” in Salt Lake County such as the Utah State Fairpark, Centro Cívico Méxicano, and the Urban Indian Center. (Additional testing events will take place state-wide.)

People being tested for COVID-19 at these events are asked to sign a form agreeing to allow a community health worker to connect with them. Then, the community health worker conducts an assessment, which looks at the social determinants of a patient’s health needs, and will then follow up with the patient in the areas of food, housing, physical and mental health, etc.

Utah COVID-19 Stats as of June 3

  • Total cases:10,497 | 5,621 cases in SL County
  • Total people tested: 223,981 | 90,938 in SL County
  • Total hospitalizations: 829 | 448 in SL County
  • Total deaths: 117 | 78 in SL County

Demographics Statewide:

  • Hispanic/Latino – 4,190 total cases
    Only 14.2% of the state’s population, but they account for 39.9% of cases.
  • White – 3,873 total cases
    78% of the state's population are White, but they only account for 36.9% of cases.
  • Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander – 416 total cases
    1.6% of population, but they account for 4% of cases
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native – 351 total cases
    2.3% of pop. and 3.3% of cases
  • Black/African American – 332 total cases
    2.1% of pop. and 3.2% of cases


For updated daily counts, visit: Case Counts | coronavirus