COVID-19 impacting Latinos: One local man’s story of survival

Jorge Martinez

Jorge Martinez was hospitalized for COVID-19. (Photo provided by Martinez)

Editor’s note: Jorge Martinez’s interview was translated from Spanish to English for this article.

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — When coronavirus coverage started to ramp up in the Richmond-region, Jorge Martinez was aware of the symptoms. So on May 27, when he started to exhibit COVID-19 symptoms he made the decision to stay home, telling his sister he would isolate until “whatever” he had passed.

That “whatever” later turned out to be COVID-19.

Days after Martinez started to feel sick, he decided to go to a free testing event hosted by the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts at Martin Luther King Middle School. He said he waited almost 10 days for his results.

“During those 10 days, every day I felt worse,” Martinez told 8News. “My head was hurting more and I had to go on an emergency visit to the hospital.”

On top of Martinez’s symptoms, he started to notice that his family was also falling ill. According to Martinez, his wife started showing symptoms of the virus two days after he did and soon after his children, ages 13 and 7 had mild symptoms. His sister-in-law who lives in his household later turned out to have COVID-19 but was asymptomatic.

“I was convinced, I didn’t have certainty because at that point I had not received my results in regards to the test. But the way that I felt, I knew what I had,” Martinez told 8News.

Martinez still does not know how he contracted COVID-19. He said he has always been a very cautious man. He would always work with a face covering and would wash his hands regularly. He was very strict and would not enter his home unless he took his shoes off. He immediately took showers after work before coming to greet his children. But even with all of those precautions he still contracted the virus.

“The most wronged was always me. The one who suffered the most symptoms, the one who’s case was extreme. The one who had to go to the emergency room three or four times,” Martinez said.

Martinez is still suffering from complications of COVID-19 nearly two months after his diagnosis. He has developed Pericarditis, an inflammation in his heart membrane.

“It’s been really hard honestly. I never thought I would experience a situation like this, let alone with my family.” Martinez said.

As Martinez became another patient with COVID-19, he also joined the statistic of Latinos in Virginia who are suffering from COVID-19 at an alarming rate.

Latinos have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, not just in Virginia but in the entire country. While data shows that Latinos make up 10 percent of Virginia’s population, data from the Virginia Department of Health show that they account for 42.5 percent of the state’s cases as of July 16.

According to the department of health, in Richmond, Latinos make up half of all COVID-19 cases but represent only 6 percent of the population, and in Chesterfield County, Latinos make up approximately 37.3 percent of all cases but only 9 percent of the population.

As local health districts and governments work to address the elevated COVID-19 risk in the Latino community, many Latinos are still contracting COVID-19.

When the pandemic first hit in the United States, information about the virus in Spanish was not readily available. State governors held press conferences in English and did not provide translations.

Many health districts had to regroup and refocus their efforts to reach a population that did not understand the terminology used during the pandemic due to a lack of translation services.

The City of Richmond told 8News in an effort to combat the lack of access, the created RVAStrong in Spanish to expand their public information effort in Spanish. They have also partnered with the Office of Multicultural Affairs to ensure Richmonders are able to fill out applications for the Family Crisis Funds, which gives families $500 of immediate COVID-19 relief.

The city is also using funding from the CARES ACT to help lower-income Hispanic families isolate if they live in multi-generational or overcrowded homes.

The Richmond and Henrico Health District told 8News they are ramping up the hiring of contact tracers and looking to roll out an imitative that hires what the health district is calling “navigators and community health workers.”

Navigators and community health workers are people from the community, people who are native speakers or bilingual who can help keep the community informed about testing and resources.

This would help with public health procedures and give Latinos appropriate guidance. As well as make the Latino population aware of the city’s imitative to help them isolate if they live in a multi-generational or overcrowded home.

At this time, the health district already has navigators and community health workers in the Gilpin, Mosby, Hillside, Southwood and Broad Rock communities.

“The pandemic has outlined the need to ramp this up, especially in our Latino population and areas, Margo Webb from the Richmond and Henrico Health District told 8News.

In Chesterfield, COVID-19 response teams are working with community members and leaders to better understand what the community needs.

At a state level, the Northam Administration held one bilingual press conference where they announced that testing would ramp up in highly-concentrated Latino areas. Governor Northam also addressed the factors contributing to the rise of cases among Latinos saying that many Latinos are uninsured, working high-risk jobs or undocumented.

In Martinez’s case, he arrived in the United States from Venezuela just 11 months ago. He speaks little English and is uninsured.

“There is a fear because of migrant status and that influences decisions when you have to go to a testing site, or when you need help, but the Latino community should not be fearful. This is a very difficult situation. The virus is something so complicated,” Martinez told 8News.

Following his interview with 8News, Martinez was hospitalized and then discharged. He is currently at home recovering from COVID-19 complications.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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