She spoke with Jennifer Peña, M.D. about how the pandemic has "magnified" existing health disparities that have impacted Latinx folks for years.

By Faith Brar
September 17, 2020
Getty Images/Emma McIntyre/WireImage

As coronavirus (COVID-19) cases continue to spike in parts of the U.S., Eva Longoria is using her platform to raise awareness about not just the virus itself, but also the people who are disproportionately affected by it.

In an Instagram Live, Longoria sat down with Jennifer Peña, M.D., a physician who served in the army as a doctor for over 14 years, for a 30-minute discussion on COVID-19 in the Latinx community.

Dr. Peña kicked off the discussion with some pretty alarming stats. For starters, Latinx folks are nearly three times more likely than white, non-Hispanic people to become infected with COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not only that, but people in the Latinx community are also 1.1 times more likely to die from the virus compared to white, non-Hispanic folks who become infected, according to the CDC.

There are lots of factors underlying these disparities, noted Dr. Peña. In her convo with Longoria, she explained that "social determinants of health" — including socioeconomic status, education, and housing, among other factors — can play a huge role in the quality of someone's healthcare. The Latinx community, in particular, often lacks access to resources like affordable housing and proper education, explained Dr. Peña, making them more susceptible to multiple chronic health conditions, including diabetes and obesity — two conditions that can also raise your risk of COVID-19 complications. (See: Here's Everything You Need to Know About Coronavirus and Immune Deficiencies)

Longoria and Dr. Peña also pointed out that, even though there are 60 million Latinx people in the U.S. (meaning the community represents 18 percent of the country's population), only about 5 percent of doctors in the U.S. are Latinx. (Related: Why the U.S. Desperately Needs More Black Female Doctors)

These statistics already contributed to disparities in healthcare for the Latinx community, explained Dr. Peña. But because of COVID-19, they've been "magnified," noted Longoria.

So, what can the Latinx community do to bridge these gaps and advocate for better care? "It's about simple preventative medicine," said Dr. Peña, who shared her advice in both English and Spanish during the Instagram Live.

Her basic tips for staying safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic will probably sound familiar: Wear a mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing, and keep hand sanitizer on you at all times.

But Dr. Peña also highlighted the importance of an overall healthy lifestyle, calling it your "first line of immunity."

"Try to exercise," she said. "Even if it's a walk around the park, do that. Make sure you're eating well. Make sure you're sleeping well. Don't exceed your use of alcohol." (Related: Stop Trying to "Boost" Your Immune System to Ward Off Coronavirus)

On the topic of mental health during COVID-19, Dr. Peña said that staying connected to your community is key. Whether you do so through Zoom, FaceTime, phone calls, or socially distant gatherings, communicating with family and friends can help alleviate feelings of loneliness or isolation during the pandemic, she explained.

In her personal daily routine, Dr. Peña said she meditates for a minimum of one minute each morning to feel grounded and mentally prepared for the day ahead. (If you want to follow her lead, here's a beginner's guide to meditation.)

If your anxiety is largely fueled by the uncertainty of what could happen if you do get sick with COVID-19, Dr. Peña suggests having a game plan ready ahead of time. Meaning, know what telemedicine provider you would call, which hospital you'd likely visit, and who would watch your kids (or pets) and handle your affairs, should you have to spend time in the hospital. (Related: How to Deal with Health Anxiety During COVID-19, and Beyond)

Looking ahead to the upcoming fall and winter seasons, Dr. Peña said it's imperative to prioritize getting your flu shot as well. "I promise you it will not give you the flu," she said. "I know that's a common misconception, but it won't." (See: Are There Any Flu Shot Side Effects You Should Watch Out For?)

Longoria ended the conversation by encouraging people in the Latinx community to vote and make their voices heard on these important issues in healthcare.

"If you don't elect the people who are in office, they're going to make decisions for you," said Longoria. "You want to make sure that you have a say in that."


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