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Covid's high toll: Over half of Latinos had someone close die or be hospitalized

The coronavirus robbed about half of Latinos of jobs or wages, a new survey found. “You’re not prepared, so you’re just kind of like, what am I going to do next?” a widow said.
People in Sunset Park, a Brooklyn neighborhood with one of New York''s largest Mexican and Hispanic communities, wear masks while waiting in line at the height of the pandemic in May, 2020.
People in Sunset Park, a Brooklyn neighborhood with one of New York''s largest Mexican and Hispanic communities, wear masks while waiting in line at the height of the pandemic in May, 2020.Bebeto Matthews / AP file

Diana Prieto-Bernal and her husband, Teddy Bernal, had just closed his two Arizona restaurants to shed stress and debt and live healthier when the coronavirus struck.

Bernal died July 5, 2020, four months after they closed the restaurants.

His tired and overweight body raised his risk for the virus, Prieto-Bernal said.

“Covid was the detonator for his death,” she said.

Teddy Bernal’s last Christmas with his wife Diana Prieto-Bernal and his daughter Valentina Bernal was in 2019.
The pandemic has had a substantial impact personally and financially on Latino families. Teddy Bernal’s last Christmas with his wife, Diana Prieto-Bernal, and their daughter, Valentina Bernal, was in 2019. Courtesy Diana Prieto-Bernal

Results of a new Pew Research Center survey, released Thursday, show that Covid-19 has served up a double whammy to U.S. Latinos, exacting high human and financial tolls.

More than half, 52 percent, said a family member or a close friend had died from or has been hospitalized by the coronavirus.

The reach has been wide, the survey of 3,375 Latinos in March found, with substantial shares across age groups, immigration status, education and party affiliation saying someone close to them had become ill with Covid-19.

Almost as many, 49 percent, said someone in their household had lost a job or taken a pay cut since February 2020.

NBC News noted the destructive impact of the coronavirus on Latinos, including the young, in a report in December.

Even though the virus has plundered Latinos’ lives, Pew found that most are positive about the standing of the country and that many see better times ahead.

About half, 49 percent, say they are satisfied with the country's direction, and 65 percent say the worst is behind us, the survey shows. Those are leaps of 13 percentage points and 34 percentage points, respectively, from November. The survey reported an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

'You're not prepared'

Arizona's stay-at-home order had ended in May 2020, and about a month later, Prieto-Bernal and her husband went to a birthday party. Later that night, they joined friends at a restaurant bar. They didn't wear masks, and they interacted with people less than 6 feet from them.

"We let our guard down completely," Prieto-Bernal said wearily.

The symptoms showed up a few days later, but Bernal refused to go to the hospital right away, saying it was just a cough. When he finally did go, nothing worked. He had been in the hospital 12 days when he died. He was 45.

"I never thought for a second he wasn't going to come out," Prieto-Bernal said.

Diana Prieto-Bernal remembers her husband Teddy Bernal as a great provider who prioritized his family, “joy, all laughs and peace.”
Diana Prieto-Bernal remembers her husband, Teddy Bernal, as a great provider who prioritized his family" and was “joy, all laughs and peace.” Courtesy Diana Prieto-Bernal

Now, she is trying to navigate a life without her spouse.

Prieto-Bernal, 46, has decided to move from Scottsdale; there are too many reminders of her husband and people who knew him. She's going to Tucson, where the rent is also lower.

Pew listed seven potential hardships Latinos could have experienced during the pandemic, including being unable to pay rent or having to get food from food banks.

Sixty-two percent of Hispanics surveyed said they experienced at least one of the hardships, including those who said no one in their households lost jobs or wages because of the pandemic.

That is far greater than the 25 percent of all U.S. adults who said in August that they had experienced financial hardships, Pew said.

Fifty-one percent of those who experienced job losses or wage cuts said they had trouble paying bills, and 37 percent of the same group said they had trouble paying rent or mortgages.

Among those who had no job or wage losses, over a quarter (26 percent) said they had gotten food from food banks.

Latino unemployment had been on a steady decline since January 2011, when it was 12.3 percent. It reached a low of 4 percent in September 2019 before it began rising with the pandemic.

After Covid-19 hit the U.S., unemployment among Latinos spiked to nearly 19 percent in April 2020. It has dropped since then to about 7.4 percent in June, higher than the national rate of 6.1 percent. For Latinas, unemployment in June was 8.6 percent, and it was 6.4 percent for Latino men.

Prieto-Bernal said her plan is to earn most of her income through her media company, which creates and handles business needs of online Latino sites.

Teddy Bernal and Diana at a wedding in the Dominican Republic.
Diana Prieto-Bernal and Teddy Bernal at a wedding in the Dominican Republic.Courtesy Diana Prieto-Bernal

She is earning some additional cash by selling jewelry and clothing she has embellished. Her savings are almost depleted.

“You’re not prepared, so you’re just kind of like, what am I going to do next?” Prieto-Bernal said. “I’m not afraid of working. I like working. The only thing is that you get a little more scared. ... What am I going to do? How is this going to work?”

Sometimes, it’s the smaller things that remind her that “everything is on you," such as not being able to call Bernal to ask him to pick up a carton of milk, she said.

“Not that he did everything, but he was a very good provider," she said. "He was very responsible. My daughter and I were his biggest priority, always."  

Families are a safety net

Pew’s survey found that many Hispanic families are getting help from relatives.

Prieto-Bernal spent about four months living with her mother, and she visited family in the Dominican Republic this month so she wouldn't be alone when the anniversary of her husband’s death arrived.

“Every morning, the first thought in the morning is this happened. He’s not here,” Prieto-Bernal said from Santo Domingo.

About 58 percent of Latinos say they have helped relatives or close friends by buying groceries, running errands, caring for their children or lending or sending money. Nearly two-thirds say they have helped send money to friends, relatives or charitable organizations since the outbreak began.

Overall, 34 percent of Latinos said they received help, with more who have lost jobs or wages saying they got help than those who didn't.

Vaccination rates still lag for Latinos

There have been 34 million cases of Covid-19 in the U.S., according to NBC News' tally.

Almost 3 in 10 Latinos told Pew that they have tested positive for Covid-19 or have been pretty sure they had it. Prieto-Bernal was in the hospital for eight days with the virus, and her daughter tested positive for it, as well, although she didn't get very sick.

Some states are do collect race and ethnicity data about vaccinations or report it to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC report on race and ethnicity for 62.7 percent of fully vaccinated people shows that 15.2 percent of them are Hispanic.

Prieto-Bernal isn't among the vaccinated. She said she fears the virus entering her body and ravaging it again.

“I have dreams about it,” she said. “Sometimes I dream that I take it and I’m fine, and then sometimes I dream that I took it and I get sick. I don’t know.”

A better future ahead

If there is something the pandemic hasn’t broken, it’s optimism among U.S. Hispanics. Pew said Latinos’ attitude about the pandemic has in essence flipped since April 2020. 

For years, Pew surveys found greater optimism among Latinos than among other population groups, said Jens Manuel Krogstad, a Pew Research Center senior writer and editor. But that changed, and the change coincided with the Trump administration, he said. 

In the latest survey, however, two-thirds of Latinos said the worst of the pandemic is behind us, and 54 percent said they expect that their personal financial situations will be better a year from now. Among immigrants, the positive outlook was even greater.

“The growth in Latino optimism is a return to prior trends,” Krogstad said.

Optimism about the country’s future spreads across groups — age, immigration or citizenship status, gender and education.

But it wasn't the case among Republican or Republican-leaning Latinos.

Fifty-eight percent of Democrats or people who lean Democratic say they are satisfied with the country’s direction, 30 points higher than in December 2019. 

Only a third of Republican or Republican-leaning Hispanics said they are satisfied with the country’s direction, down from 57 percent in December 2019.

A final wish

When the couple visited Prieto-Bernal’s home country, Colombia, Bernal told his wife that he loved it so much that “if I ever die, I want my ashes thrown in the sea in Colombia.” 

She waved off his comment, figuring it wasn't something she'd have to think about any time soon.

In December, “I did it,” she said. “I took his ashes to Colombia and put them in the sea.”

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