COVID-19 patient being helped by doctors. Photo credit: Gustavo Basso / Wikimedia Commons

Last week, the U.S. reached the grim milestone of 1 million lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Ilianna Salas, her family lost their matriarch, Abuela Rosa, who started a business that helped her family climb to the middle class.

For Teresa Rodriguez, the virus took the lives of four of her loved ones: her brother-in-law, mother-in-law, father-in-law, and her own husband.

According to the Center for Disease Control, COVID-19 has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer — and Latinos have been affected at a disproportionate rate. 

In total, around 160,000 Latinos were killed by COVID-19. This accounts for 16% of the 1 million deaths in the country. The pandemic death toll has led one global health expert to declare that the coronavirus is causing “the historic decimation” of the Latino community.

Artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenburg’s temporary COVID-19 memorial installation on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Photo credit: Elvert Barnes / Wikimedia Commons

In cities like Austin, Texas, where Latinos account for 34% of the city’s population, the disparity was clear, with Latinos accounting for half of the city’s total COVID-19 cases. In Los Angeles, the mortality rate for Latinos rose by 48% during the pandemic.

When compared to the fate of white patients, Latinos were more likely to be hospitalized or die, according to one University of California study. Younger Latinos also represented a larger portion of COVID-19 deaths compared to younger white people, the study showed.

“It’s an exponential number of other people that are walking around with a small hole in their heart,” Diana Ordonez, who lost her husband Juan Ordonez five days before their daughter’s birthday, told NBC News.

Protestors outside of a U.S. prison. Photo credit: Joe Piette / Flickr

Latinos were being infected at their jobs, with 31% of Latinos working as essential workers during the pandemic. Latinos working in meatpacking plants were hit hard. While the exact number of cases and deaths at meatpacking and processing facilities is unknown, it is estimated that at least 59,000 meatpacking workers contracted COVID-19, and 269 died in 2020, according to a U.S. House report released last October.

Overall, more than 2,800 incarcerated people died of COVID-19 as of May 5, according to data from the COVID Prison Project, an organization of public health scientists. In addition, eight deaths were reported within Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, which hold tens of thousands of immigrants annually, according to a 2020 House Committee report.


Steph Amaya Mora (she/her/hers) is the Arizona Digital Partner Organizer, based in Phoenix, Arizona. She's Mexican and Salvadoran-American journalist who has volunteered and helped organize with local groups throughout her professional career. She has experience writing stories and producing podcasts for Ability360, the Center for Independent Living in Phoenix, servicing people with disabilities and promoting the center. She has a bachelors in Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.