NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — Hispanic and Latino people make up nearly half of New Bedford’s total COVID-19 cases, according to the New Bedford Health Department.

Health officials say a variety of factors such as language barriers, immigration fears and job positions have caused Hispanics and Latinos to become the ethnicity most affected by the virus in the city.

While Hispanics and Latinos make up roughly 20% of New Bedford’s population, the ethnic group accounts for 45.8% of its coronavirus cases.

Helena DaSilva Hughes, executive director of the Immigrants Assistance Center, said she has personally counseled people who are afraid of getting tested.

“I really want to really make sure the message is clear to them that during this pandemic, anyone has access to treatment or testing, no matter what their immigration status is,” she explained.

While not all Hispanics are immigrants, DaSilva says many who are fear that if they get tested, the city or state will become aware of their immigration status. As a result, they’re more vulnerable to getting infected and transmitting the virus.

DaSilva Hughes also said the jobs held by many Hispanics and Latinos can put them at risk.

“First off, they are essential workers. A lot of them are working cleaning, or in New Bedford, they are working in fish houses, so they don’t have access to sick days,” she said. “If they don’t work, they don’t get paid, so what we will find is that they will go to work when they are sick.”

Cheryl Bartlett, CEO of the New Bedford Health Center, agreed, adding that along with crowded housing conditions, working on the front lines is the reason she herself has seen so many cases.

“This is a population that is a population of the essential workforce,” Bartlett said. “They are working in crowded places and not all workplaces have been adequately protected with PPE. These are things I have heard from our patients.”

Both DaSilva Hughes and Bartlett said another significant issue is a lack of information due to the language barrier.

“I think it took them longer to get some of the messaging,” Bartlett said. “As opposed to the English population that are getting their messages day in and day out.”

While the New Bedford Health Department shows daily cases have been down, the mayor’s office tells Eyewitness News there have been 99 deaths as of Wednesday.