The Pandemic Is Hitting Milwaukee’s Latinx Community the Hardest

COVID-19 is disproportionately hurting the Latinx community in Milwaukee.

Cases of COVID-19 continue to climb in Milwaukee County’s Latinx community following a surge that began one month ago.

“We continue to see a lot of disease in the Hispanic community,” Greenfield public health officer Darren Rausch said in a media briefing on Thursday. 

Members of the Hispanic and Latinx community now account for nearly 40 percent of all coronavirus cases in the city of Milwaukee and about 37 percent in Milwaukee County.

Over the past four weeks, Hispanics have seen the highest case rates of COVID-19 in the city of Milwaukee and have accounted for more than two and a half times the number of cases when compared with the Black community, which has also been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, said Rausch, who is tracking COVID-19 statistics locally along with researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin. 

The jump in COVID-19 cases in the Latinx community is troubling to local officials, especially considering that the Black community in Milwaukee is more than double the population of Hispanics and Latinos. The surge in cases has been concentrated on Milwaukee’s South Side.

As of Friday afternoon, there were 10,087 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Milwaukee County and 331 deaths. The Latinx population accounted for 3,703, or 37%, of the cases in the county, compared with 2,794 for blacks (28%), 1,972 (20%) among the white population and 479 (5%) among Asians.

Confirmed coronavirus cases totaled 8,101 in the city of Milwaukee as of Friday morning, with 225 deaths. Of the confirmed cases in the city, Hispanics and Latinos accounted for 3,274, or 40 percent, with 2,507 (31%) among the Black community, 926 (11%) among whites, and 412 (5%) for the Asian community.

In late March, in the early stages of the pandemic, Milwaukee’s Black population accounted for about 70 percent of those who had contracted COVID-19 in the city.

The significant burden of disease in the Latinx community is likely traced to the high percentage of essential workers, whose jobs don’t allow them to work from home and often require extensive interaction with the public, according to Milwaukee County’s Emergency Management Medical Director Dr. Ben Weston. 

Officials have put out a “call to action” for resources and partnerships for the Latinx population, city of Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said. 

Economic relief is needed, as is support for families of workers who have not been able to take time off or haven’t been able to make ends meet because they have been sickened by the coronavirus, she added.

“Having access to resources is very important,” Kowalik said. 

It’s also important, she stressed, to make sure outreach materials are available in Spanish and are culturally appropriate.

“And there are a number of community-based organizations that are out doing the work, handing out masks, educating our community to uplift and support that work,” Kowalik said.

She applauded the efforts of some businesses in controlling the coronavirus, including a move by El Rey to temporarily shut its grocery store at South 35th and West Burnham streets after cashiers contracted COVID-19 at a party outside of work.

She noted that the store, which is part of Milwaukee’s oldest and largest Hispanic grocery chain, is located in an area that is experiencing the highest incidence of COVID-19 in Milwaukee. 

“We just want to highlight and thank them for being pro-active and working with us to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” Kowalik said. “We need partnerships. We don’t want this to be a punitive approach. We want to work together because this is about suppressing and eliminating the spread of COVID-19 so that we can move into this new normal that we are preparing for down the road.”

Milwaukee had hoped to move forward with the next phase of reopening on Friday but testing setbacks will keep the city in the third phase for at lease another seven days, until another reassessment is conducted. 

Kowalik noted that a metric focused on testing, one of five metrics being monitored, had been “red” last week, or the worst among a three-color ranking system that uses green (best), yellow and red in descending order. Other metrics are case numbers, hospitalizations, availability of personal protective gear in the health care field, and tracing.

The city’s goal is to perform 2,000 tests per day or have a positivity rate of less than 5% before moving to the next phase, she said.



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.