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Fe y Salud webinar addresses disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on Latino community

Jul. 2, 2020, 2:36 PM

by Matt Schorr

The Latino community is affected disproportionately by COVID-19. News outlets report leaders and lawmakers calling its impact “catastrophic.” In the state of Tennessee, one-third of residents who test positive for the coronavirus are Hispanic, even though only 5.6 percent of the population is Hispanic.

During a recent online discussion featuring health care providers and faith leaders, Christian Rosas-Salazar, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, attributed this to — among other things — living in a multi-generational household and limited access to health services.

“There is no treatment or vaccine,” Rosas-Salazar said. “There is a lot of fake news. Listen to health professionals. Don’t follow what’s on social media. Read from accurate sources like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.”

The Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance (MVA)Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC), the Faith and Health Collaborative of the Nashville Health Disparities Coalition (NHDC) and Better Options TN spearheaded the webinar in response to the stark COVID-19 health disparities in the Latino community. Rosas-Salazar was one of three speakers featured in the discussion, alongside Mid-South Nazarene Churches Coordinator Pastor Eduardo Lelli and Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) Director of Community Affairs Leticia Alvarez.

“A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge,” Lelli said, quoting Proverbs 22:3, “but the simple keep going and suffer for it.”

Too many, he believed, venture out into the community despite the risk. They ignore doctors’ recommendations to limit the virus’s spread and have little or no consideration whether or not others do the same. He made a sobering comment: “They’re challenging God.”

Lelli urged everyone watching, particularly faith leaders, to work together throughout the faith community and inform everyone about the pandemic, its effects and how to slow it’s spread.

“I would like to invite you to become more active in informing our congregations,” he said.

Alvarez said the TIRRC is focusing its efforts on informing and advocating for employees in food processing, agriculture and domestic care. Those groups, she noted, are at especially high risk during this pandemic.

“Their exposure to the virus is high,” she explained, “because they go from place to place, and the working conditions and proximity of employees.”

According to Alvarez, workers in all three sectors aren’t receiving the occupational health tools they need — like masks, gloves and social distance — to lower risk of infection.

“We have an urgency to reach all the people in the community, including the high-risk groups, and educate and inform elected officials about the needs of employees in these sectors,” she said.

“TIRRC’s work, and that of other community leaders in this space, underscores how we have to look at multiple strategies to address the impacts of COVID in populations most impacted by health inequities. We need to consider issues such as worker’s rights and housing,” said Elisa Friedman, director of Community Engagement at MVA.

“If you won’t get a paycheck, if you will lose the income that puts food on your family’s table because you have no paid leave, would you be first in line to get tested for COVID and risk that paycheck? What we are seeing is not new — the populations disproportionately impacted by health inequities pre-COVID will be of course be the populations most impacted by today’s pandemic.”

The best prevention for COVID-19, Salazar said, is staying home. If someone must venture out, they should maintain a six-foot distance from anyone outside their immediate household, wear masks in public and wash their hands frequently and thoroughly.

“Everyone has risk factors for this disease,” he said.

Lelli agreed: “It’s better to error on the side of caution than to suffer the consequences.”

“It’s our responsibility to request answers and action from local officials,” Alvarez added.

“It’s concerning to see the disconnection between the education available in Spanish about COVID-19 and the people in our community. It is important that we all come together to make this a health priority and to continue educating our community,” said Claudia Barajas, community engagement manager for VICC.

“We had almost 70 people participate in the webinar. Since the webinar, the recording we did with the pastors has had more than 5200 views. There is clearly a need for information delivered this way froma trusted audience that includes faith leaders in the Latino community,” Barajas said.ß

The speakers fielded question from those in attendance before closing, where they touched on protection and care for at-risk patients, additional advocacy for workers and safe measures for reopening faith centers. Cynthia Jackson, chair of the NHDC, also attended the webinar and, during the Q&A session raised the important question of increasing access to testing in the Latino community.

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