Health officials urge Utah’s Hispanic population to keep holiday events small due to COVID-19

Oct 27, 2020, 6:00 PM | Updated: 8:46 pm
(Two workers at a COVID-19 testing site at Glendale MIddle School in Salt Lake City.  Credit: Spens...
(Two workers at a COVID-19 testing site at Glendale MIddle School in Salt Lake City. Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
(Two workers at a COVID-19 testing site at Glendale MIddle School in Salt Lake City. Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A warning from the Utah Department of Health to the state’s Hispanic population: Even though the rates of COVID-19 infection among Latinos is down, it’s still not safe to plan large family gatherings over the holidays.  They’re urging families to plan ahead and keep those get-togethers small.

Intermountain Park City Hospital Medical Director Wing Province has a first-hand knowledge of how extreme cases of COVID-19 look.  He was sent to help treat patients in New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital earlier this year at the height of their pandemic.  He says so many people died in such a short amount of time, they kept a special trailer outside the facility just to house the bodies of those who passed away.

“We just couldn’t keep up with how many people were dying.  To make room for those coming in sick, we had to have that trailer outside… a refrigerated trailer for those bodies,” he said.

Province says we’re not at that level, yet, but the hospitals in Utah are becoming overwhelmed.  However, he believes people don’t really grasp how serious something is unless they see the effects for themselves.  He says he has treated a lot of patients who used to believe the virus was “no big deal” until they became sick.

He wants to warn everyone about the growing problem and urge them to do everything they can to keep the spread of the virus down, and that includes limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer.

Province was raised in a large Latino family.  His mother is from Mexico and he has over 50 cousins.  He believes it would be easy for Hispanic families to fall into a false sense of security, believing the viral spread isn’t as dangerous as it used to be among the Spanish-speaking population.  However, he says large parties can become super-spreader events.

“You’ve got a gathering together at a Sunday dinner and suddenly you’re exceeding the mandates we have in this state,” Province said.

Several months ago, Latinos comprised roughly 40 percent of all COVID-19 cases, but Edwin Espinal with the Utah Department of Health says that population only accounts for 28 percent of all infections, now.  He believes this shows their public safety messages are reaching people.

“The community is actually making a [change] in their behavior,” he said.

Espinal is also urging all families to keep their holiday celebrations small, sticking with the nuclear family and seeing extended family through other methods.  Meanwhile, the state will be looking closely at how Utah’s Hispanic population is following safety recommendations.

“The Department of Health is implementing an observation-type intervention where we are actually looking at who is wearing a mask, how often and things like that,” he said.

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Health officials urge Utah’s Hispanic population to keep holiday events small due to COVID-19