Richmond, Chesterfield health districts team up with CDC to address COVID-19 risk in Hispanic community

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Dr. Danny Avula, the director of the Richmond and Henrico health districts, discussed the region's plans during a Friday press briefing in the city.

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The health districts in Richmond and Chesterfield County are working together to expand outreach and services to Hispanic communities and others who have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19.

While both districts acknowledge the public health concerns remain for all residents, they noted that some are “witnessing an increased burden of cases.”

In a release sent out Friday, the Richmond City Health District cited a variety of factors leading to this difference. One circumstance listed was employment.

“Hispanics/Latinos are often employed in service industries including health care, childcare, food service, and cleaning. Due to frequent contact with the public, employment in the service sector increases risk of infection and can lead to community spread,” the release stated. “In addition, Hispanics/Latinos of low socioeconomic status may be less likely to seek testing if they are uninsured or lack access to paid sick leave.”

Dr. Danny Avula, Richmond and Henrico Health District Director said, “One of the challenges particularly for our undocumented community is that they don’t have access to things like paid sick leave and so if somebody is starting to feel ill, if they’re starting develop symptoms, either because they don’t know to look for it or because they need to feed their families, they may still come to work, but that also comes from employers as well.”

Michel Zajur, President of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber, is working with businesses to provide resources and help them better relay information in Spanish.

“The Hispanic community has a very high work ethic and a lot of times if they’re not feeling good or they’re sick, they still show up to work,” Zajur said.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, the other two main factors contributing to the spread of COVID-19 is Latinos living in small home setting making it difficult to self-isolate and social distance. Another reason is there’s distrust with government officials.

Virginia health officials report that Hispanics make up 32 percent of coronavirus cases in Richmond but only represent six percent of the city’s population. In Chesterfield, they account for 15 percent of all COVID-19 cases but only nine percent of the county’s population.

Response teams have been in working with Hispanic leaders and community members, the district said, in an effort improve their ability to understand and overcome any barriers to care for residents. The districts have come up with strategies to ensure this progress, including “expanding testing access and outreach, using contact tracing to identify potentially COVID-19 positive individuals, ensuring positive residents have resources to recover safely in isolation, and providing communities with masks and other resources to limit further community spread.”

The state’s health department has invited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help in the cause. The CDC has already sent a group of bilingual epidemiologists and community specialists to both districts.

While officials work to find creative ways to reach Latinos struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, Navira Cabrera, owner of Totally New You Wellness Center in Richmond is stepping in.

“Right now, all we can do is love each other and love is not just with words, it is with actions,” Cabrera said.

In partnership with the Waymakers Foundation, Cabrera is providing PPE, hand sanitizer, gloves, and food for Latino families. Cabrera is well known in the Latino community and an ally for those who are scared. She has even helped encourage those who feel sick to go to the hospital for treatment.

“They have trust in some of us in the community so they reach out and we kind of have some kind of impact in their lives,” said Cabrera. “It’s sad because of lack of information from not knowing what to do, a lot of people stay home, go on with the virus, some of them end of going to the hospital when it’s too late.”

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