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Black Lives Matter protest at the state Capitol at the end of May (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting minority communities and it’s compounding inequities in housing, health care and economic stability that already existed in Connecticut and across the country.

Using the term “stress monster,” Catherine Corto-Mergins, director of training at the Village for Families and Children, referred to the dual pandemics as the “perfect storm” which is causing emotional distress, poor health, mental insecurities, money issues and joblessness.

A new report clarifies the social inequity of the coronavirus.

Data Haven found that prior to the pandemic, communities of color endured disproportionately worse health outcomes and increased mortality as a consequence of decades of structural inequality. It concluded that the pandemic has made these disparities more obvious. In its analysis, almost 19 years separate the life expectancy of a child born in Bridgeport from a child born in Westport.

When it comes to the coronavirus, Blacks are two-and-a-half times more likely to die from the virus than whites and when adjusted for age, Hispanics are 67% more likely to die than whites, according to Department of Public Health data.

Corto-Mergins emphasized that factors such as living and working conditions greatly influence race and ethnic minority health. She cited particulars: members of racial and ethnic minorities may be more likely to live in densely populated areas because of institutional racism in the form of residential housing segregation; and nearly a quarter of employed Hispanic and Black or African American workers are employed in service industry jobs compared to 16% of non-Hispanic whites.

In addition, Corto-Mergins pointed out that lack of paid sick leave has caused many employees to go to work when they are sick because they need to provide for their families. She highlighted data indicating that lower-income workers are more likely to work in harsh conditions and in close quarters, without a lot of personal protective equipment and that living in multi-generational houses makes it harder to protect and isolate older family members who are more likely to become ill.

The Data Haven report detailed how food insecurity disproportionately affects people with lower incomes and access to food is a challenge for many people in Connecticut. It highlighted that before the complication of COVID-19, the city of Hartford, for example, had very low food access coupled with financial constraints that contribute to food insecurity. Adding widespread loss of income from the pandemic to the equation has exacerbated long-standing food insecurity and strained limited resources for public support.

The Latino Endowment Fund recently held a Zoom with the COVID-19 Community Response Advisory Council, which is convened by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut.

Perspective leaders from different sectors spoke about the ongoing problems threatening minorities in Connecticut.

“These groups are questioning ‘How long will we be pivoting? How long do I have to stay in survival mode?’” explained Diego Portillo Mazal, director of Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC). “They are most concerned about childcare, eldercare and safety in the workplace.”

Corto-Mergins explained, “It’s like revving up a car and leaving it like that for a very long time. Members of the Latino community are feeling this toxic stress and it is having lasting, long-term results of wear and tear on the bodies and brains.”

Chronic stress and trauma are toxins seeping into all aspects of life.

“Some of us feel guilty that we can stay home, yet many others have no other choice but to go out to work, and work in an environment [where they] may not be safe,” Werner Oyanadel, who works for the Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity and Opportunity, said.

He added, “Latinos and many Americans live two or three paychecks away from poverty and homelessness.  COVID-19 is making Latino families very stressed about losing their jobs or for those families that are already unemployed, they are worried about having enough money to pay rent or their mortgages.  Food insecurity unfortunately is a big problem too.”

Jay Williams, president of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, said the challenges that have been more acute as a result of the pandemic are race, place and income.

Williams went on to explain that the recent civil unrest happening is not new. In fact, he said, it has been happening for hundreds of years and is part of the fabric of this country.

And no matter how enormous the “stress monster” confronting Black and Latino people right now, Corto-Mergins added that there is good news: “Our spirits and brains can heal. We are resilient.”