Most mainland Puerto Ricans live in areas with the highest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths, making them disproportionately more vulnerable amid the coronavirus pandemic, a new investigation found.
An investigation from the Center for Investigative Journalism, know by its Spanish acronym CPI, found that the U.S. counties with the highest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths coincide with the counties with the highest proportion of Puerto Ricans in the nation.
The counties with the most Puerto Ricans in Florida, New York and New Jersey are also the most vulnerable and disadvantaged when compared to the rest of the counties in these states, the investigation uncovered.
Mike Ruiz Rivera, who lives in Newark, New Jersey, survived COVID-19 after being hospitalized for almost a month.
“[COVID-19] is the worst thing a person can get. When I got to the hospital, I was traumatized. So, when they told me that they were going to intubate me, I had already seen people they had intubated, who in two days were out of it. I was afraid and said: ‘They’re going to intubate me; I’m going to die.’ I had that on my mind, and I traumatized myself even more,” said Ruiz Rivera, a plumber who is asthmatic.
Essex County, where Newark is located, has the highest coronavirus death rate on record. Over 55,000 Puerto Ricans live in Essex County, which is considered the second most vulnerable county in New Jersey, CPI found.
Puerto Ricans are more likely to live in communities in which urban poverty, overcrowding and unemployment are rampant. Many Puerto Ricans who primarily speak Spanish often face language barriers that put them at a bigger disadvantage when they try to access health care or educational opportunities. The combination of these factors contribute to the increased risk of COVID-19 exposure, according to CPI's investigation, which found that such pattern is most noticeable in New York.
William Sánchez Vargas, is one of the one million Puerto Ricans who live in New York, the state with the strongest relationship between the proportion of the Puerto Rican population and COVID-19 rates of infection and deaths across the U.S., CPI found.
Sánchez Vargas was infected with COVID-19 but survived.
“I had a fever. I had no appetite. I haven’t eaten in more than two weeks. I couldn’t sleep at night, and sometimes, I don’t know if it was because of the fever, I was hallucinating,” he recalled through tears.
By mid-May, 15,888 COVID-19 deaths had been reported in New York City. Of these, 12,571 people suffered from chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, cancer, respiratory diseases, immunodeficiency, heart disease, hypertension, kidney or liver disease, and obesity, CPI found.