Coronavirus ZIP code data shows Greenville's Black, Hispanic communities hardest hit
The areas of Greenville that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic are also the ones with the highest concentration of black and Latino residents, according to an analysis of ZIP code data released by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
In the ZIP code with the highest number of cases in the county — West Greenville’s 29611 — 29.4% of the population lives in poverty, also the highest in the county, according to the U.S. Census’ 2018 American Community Survey.
The heavier impact of the virus on those populations is because of widening disparities in health and health care that exist within these communities compared to local white populations, health experts and community leaders said.
In some of Greenville's lower poverty, less diverse ZIP codes with high numbers of confirmed cases — 29609 and 296151 — most of the cases exist within nursing homes.
While the coronavirus has had a devastating effect on nursing homes in the county, it has been widespread in certain Greenville communities and is spreading more rapidly in recent days as a likely second wave begins to crest due to relaxed social distancing efforts.
The disease has spread most widely in West Greenville, particularly the White Horse Road corridor, and in Berea and the Poinsett Highway and Cherrydale neighborhoods, all of which are the largest minority communities within the county, according to an analysis of SCDHEC data.
Not surprisingly, more affluent downtown ZIP codes, as well as suburban and rural areas have seen fewer cases overall.
In the most affected ZIP codes, leaders say the virus has magnified existing issues, particularly health, housing and workforce concerns as well as communication within Greenville’s growing Latino communities.
“Racial and ethnic health disparities were a major issue before the pandemic, and coronavirus has magnified the problem,” said Shaniece Criss, an assistant professor of health science at Furman University, a member of the Prisma Health board of directors and a Travelers Rest city councilwoman. “Research shows that systemic inequalities impact chronic stress, housing, work, and access to and quality of care, which all relate to health.”
Criss said African Americans have higher rates of lung disease, heart disease and diabetes, which are all underlying conditions linked to more severe cases of COVID-19.
“Compounding that with access to care, not being able to get in to see your doctor, but also how people have been treated in care,” Criss said. “There are so many studies that deal with how the healthcare system has treated different races and ethnicities in a different way.”
The largest black and Latino communities — ZIP codes 29611, 29605 and 29617 — are also among the poorest in Greenville.
Black and Latino residents work front-line, 'essential' jobs that enhance risk of COVID-19 exposure
Both the county’s Latino and black populations predominantly work in front line, people-facing jobs that were considered essential by Gov. Henry McMaster and exposed them to the virus more frequently, said Criss and Adela Mendoza, executive director of the Hispanic Alliance, which has coordinated coronavirus outreach to Greenville’s Latino communities.
Because of language barriers, widespread understanding within the Latino community about the virus typically is delayed by two to three weeks, despite concerted efforts to reach the community, Mendoza said.
Lack of access to health care, concern over legal immigration status among some in the community, and changes to school that had been a point of contact to families all have contributed to a high rate of cases in Latino communities, Mendoza said.
Across South Carolina, Hispanics make up 5.8% of the population but represent at least 12% of the coronavirus cases reported by June 2, according to SCDHEC. Now Hispanics make up 15% of all South Carolina cases as of June 21.
“If you have a community that is isolated by language, by culture and by lack of communication for those communities that are the poorest, then you are going to have a problem,” Mendoza said. “Because if the community doesn’t understand the risk at the same time as all of us, then you are going to have a problem.”
The state health agency said it can't definitively say why certain areas in Greenville have seen an uptick in cases but is "investigating the data associated with recent Greenville cases, such as the ZIP code information, to identify any other factors that could be contributing to an increase so that we can immediately address them."
“We very early on knew that was going to be the challenge, and unfortunately, that’s how it has played out,” Mendoza said.
Financial concerns — because most Latino immigrants didn’t receive any federal stimulus money and because they fear losing their jobs — led many in the Latino community to continue to work, even knowing the health risks, Mendoza said. In addition, many sought extra jobs and school-age children went to work since school switched to distance learning, she said.
Compounding the delay in access to information, many Latino families didn’t seek available help from food banks due to fear, cultural pride and the stigma of seeking help from outside the family or community, she said.
“They’re not going to go to a place they don’t know,” she said. “There’s fear associated with that.”
Solutions needed to reach impacted communities and improve outcomes for the future
The Hispanic Alliance has redoubled efforts to support immediate needs within the Latino community through food distribution events like one Wednesday at Supermercado Los Arcos in Mauldin. It was held at a grocery store so Latino residents didn’t need to go to an unfamiliar place, and it gave leaders a chance to provide information about the virus and resources to many who otherwise may not have access, she said.
Prisma Health is looking at much of the same population data to target its mobile community testing sites to those communities, said Dr. Eric Ossmann, chief of preparedness and mobile integrated healthcare for Prisma.
The roll-out of free mobile testing sites in May has helped build an understanding of the virus’ spread in the Latino community, Mendoza said. More than 300 people, most of them Latino, were tested at a pop-up clinic at La Unica Supercenter on White Horse Road on May 9. A second mobile site at Carolina High School saw about 500 tested, and more than 200 of those were Latino, she said.
In the long term, communities should utilize programs to connect minority populations with a primary care physician to address underlying health concerns using existing programs to assist with paperwork and provide translation when needed, Criss said.
“Within the healthcare system, standardized protocols are necessary to ensure that all the patients have the same experience,” she said.
And cities need to continue to support quality education, and mixed-use, mixed-income housing to improve the health of the community, she said.
“That way more people will have access to grocery stores, sidewalks, resources and economic opportunities,” she said.
What ZIP code and demographic data says about spread of coronavirus in Greenville County
If you can't see the infographic below, click here
Kirk Brown contributed reporting.
Nathaniel Cary is an investigative reporter with The Greenville News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @nathanielcary on Twitter.