By DeeDee Belmares

The effects of COVID-19 and air pollution on Latino communities may seem like different issues but it’s critical to recognize their relation because Latinos are experiencing disproportionate impacts from both.

The impacts are significant enough to be characterized as injustices because they are not only happening in San Antonio but across the nation. Air pollution and COVID-19 are harming our health and we can no longer ignore it. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease and air pollution in our communities is causing respiratory illnesses like asthma or emphysema.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Latinos have been hospitalized nationwide at a rate of more than four times that of white people due to COVID. In Bexar County, the numbers are equally concerning. Seventy-seven percent of COVID-19 cases in San Antonio are afflicting Hispanics while Anglos account for just 15 percent of the cases. Furthering the burden Latinos face during this health crisis is a lack of insurance that provides for quality healthcare to manage COVID-19 infections.  Twenty-nine percent – or nearly one-third – of Hispanic Texans lack health insurance.

How then does air pollution relate to the COVID-19 health crisis? The same people that are force to breathe polluted air are suffering most from the pandemic.  A report from the Clean Air Task Force, LULAC and the National Hispanic Medical Association that analyzes EPA and Department of Health and Human Services data reveals that “industrial polluters are disproportionately located in Latino neighborhoods. “

Some of these polluters are coal-powered plants like CPS Energy’s Spruce Coal Power Plant located in Southeast Bexar County. Coal plants emit particle pollution known as PM2.5 or particulate matter. These almost invisible particles are so small they can easily enter our lungs and eventually the bloodstream causing shortness of breath, excessive coughing and wheezing. Sound familiar? These are some of the same symptoms suffered by people with COVID-19 infections.  There are still many unknowns regarding COVID-19 but one ongoing study at Harvard University found that “a small increase in particulate matter leads to a large increase in COVID-19 death rates.”

Our Latino sisters and brothers are hardworking and resilient. Our families are the center of our lives. We deserve appreciation and protection for all we contribute to American culture and the U.S. economy. The disparities we face with COVID-19 and air pollution can and should be addressed by our local and state leaders. Leaders must take action now to ensure Latinos have access to affordable health care and testing sites. We also need a commitment from San Antonio’s big polluter, CPS Energy, to close their coal plants and reduce dirty air pollution.