SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — Latinos in the South Bay are coming together to demand changes in the public health response to COVID-19.

“There has been very little protection and prevention in the Latino community throughout this country,” said Citlalmina Ortiz of the Barrio Defense Committee at a news conference Tuesday at San Jose City Hall.

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Latinos make up 39 percent of the population in California, yet have 61 percent of the COVID-19 cases according to the State Department of Public Health.

One community member blamed the disproportionate number of cases among Latinos on the jobs they do and the living conditions they had even before the pandemic began.

“Our Latino community was living multiple families in one-bedroom units making it impossible to social distance, they couldn’t stop working because they are essential and so the rate of infection was catastrophic,” said Jessica Aguallo of the Brown Berets.

Seven months into the pandemic, community members are critical of the local health department’s response when it comes to Latinos, and they are submitting a list of demands to city and county leaders that they say could help lessen the impact, such as more free and walk-up testing.

“The testing sites have to be open, 24-7,” Ortiz said.

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They are also demanding more public health messaging in Spanish on billboards and Spanish language media.

County officials say they welcome the community input.

“It’s another opportunity for us to learn,” said Ricardo Romero, a Public Health Spokesman.

Romero said much of what they are demanding is already happening. Santa Clara County has established a racial health equity task force, and opened several new testing sites in Latino neighborhoods.

“We have staff on site who can help people sign up for an appointment or to register them,” Romero said. “Some of our pop-up sites do not require an appointment.  People are there to help.

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He says the county will work to lessen the impact on communities of color and the general population. But with half the covid deaths in California now being Latino, community groups say more action is needed now.