(CNN)Early in the pandemic, Ximena Rebolledo León, a registered nurse at Telluride Regional Medical Center in southwestern Colorado, needed to find everyone who'd been in contact with a sick Latino worker whose boss had told him he would lose his job if he didn't show up.
Contact tracing in immigrant communities is most effective with trusted voices from within
The man had gone to work and infected four co-workers, all Latinos, with Covid-19 -- so Rebolledo León then had to track down their movements to determine who else had been exposed to the coronavirus in the wealthy ski resort community.
"I ended up calling 13 different families, and I put a total of 85 people in isolation or quarantine," Rebolledo León recalled.
People fighting the spread of Covid-19 face many unique challenges when doing contact tracing among low-income Latino immigrants in tight-knit communities. Long-standing health care disparities, job insecurity, immigration status, language barriers and a profound distrust of government all complicate the already tricky task.
Covid-19 has also highlighted how essential those immigrants are to their communities. While Telluride is known for its glitzy resort tucked into the mountains, the place functions because of the workers — many of them first-generation immigrants — within the surrounding San Miguel County. When the medical center implemented new Covid cleaning protocols, it fell to the cleaning staff of Latinos. Grocery stores, restaurants and many other businesses remained open only because their Hispanic workers continued to come to work.
"They are the backbone of what makes this town go round," Rebolledo León said.
That's why Latino frontline workers in Telluride and across the country suffer some of the greatest consequences of Covid-19. Hispanic people in the US face higher rates of infection than the general population. And while they make up about 17% of the population, they have accounted for 24% of Covid deaths.
San Miguel County had 211 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of Nov. 30, but no deaths. Hispanics account for about 11% of the population of roughly 8,000 but 23% of the cases from March to August.
Even so, it took weeks as the pandemic unfolded for the county health department to provide information