Latino community in Washington County hit hard by COVID-19
Amid hundreds of known cases of COVID-19 in Washington County, the Hispanic and Latino population has been hit especially hard, new county data shows.
According to county officials, nearly half of the people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Washington County identify as Hispanic. The county's overall Latino population is 16.5%.
In a virtual press conference on Wednesday, April 29, Washington County Health and Human Services director Marni Kuyl said the pandemic brings into sharp focus the systematic social, economic and health inequities that already exist in communities of color.
"These residents are the heroes that are going into high-risk situations and going to work each day making sure that our loved ones are cared for in nursing homes or hospitals," said Kuyl, "(or) making sure that our food is harvested, that our grocery stores are stocked. They are the heroes that are not able to go and protect themselves by staying home and not going to work."
Nearly 60% of the county's Hispanic or Latino community members who tested positive for COVID-19 work in healthcare, outdoor labor, factory or warehouse work, food service, or grocery stores.
Kuyl also stated concern about families not receiving information from the county to protect themselves. To increase information out to the community, the county is working with community-based organizations and growers.
"We are working with community health centers to make sure testing is prioritized and available for communities of color and residents without health insurance," Kuyl said. "We're developing recommendations for growers to protect farmworkers and delivering food and hygiene supplies to migrant camps."
When asked about Spanish-language ads concerning COVID-19, Mary Sawyers with Washington County Public Health said the county has public service announcements running on Spanish radio stations, El Rey and Bustos media. Sawyers added that over 200 commercials will run on both stations for about three weeks.
For El Rey, the schedule reached 82,600 Hispanic listeners, at an average of 5.2 times per person. The other station reached almost 35,000 Hispanic listeners with about the same average per person.
Washington County is also working with Centro Cultural in Cornelius, which serves low-income and immigrant families in the area.
"We continue helping people fill out Oregon Health Plan applications and other services like SNAP," said Maria Caballero Rubio, executive director of Centro Cultural.
The organization is also responding to community needs over the phone and online.
Rubio added, "(We) help with food distribution and to meet the needs of our Latino elderly population, in particular, who are sheltering in place but have other medical needs and food insecurity."
The organization is also partnering with Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center to host a weekly food back at Centro Cultural. Every Tuesday, almost 200 people line up before the food is distributed, said Rubio.
"As you can imagine, having that many people coming and lining up, it's kind of created some distancing issues," Rubio noted. "We're into our third batch of a hundred masks that we are distributing and making at Centro for the community."
Washington County is the second-most populous county among Oregon's 36 counties, and it is the most diverse county in the state. Nearly one in five Washington County residents were born outside the United States, and about one in four speak a language other than English at home, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
With harvest season approaching, county officials are also preparing for the arrival of thousands of migrant farmworkers, who often live and work in close contact.
"We're working quickly to remobilize outreach to vineyard workers, where we will provide COVID-19 screening, education and follow-up care, in addition to the wellness screenings we've delivered for 30 years," said Leda Garside, service manager and cultural liaison of ¡Salud!, a mobile operation founded by Oregon winemakers and OHSU Health Hillsboro Medical Center physicians to provide on-site health education and care for regional farmworkers.
The operation stopped providing clinical services to the community but moved into phone and virtual services to help those with questions or health needs.
As for what's ahead, ¡Salud! will be conducting outreach services starting next week in a mobile unit. This will include taking sample collections for COVID-19.
"We're going to be reaching directly to those workers (by) going to their employers," added Garside.
Additional efforts by Washington County to reach impacted community members include converting a local motel to a shelter space for houseless residents recovering from COVID-19 and providing business assistance programs to support underserved and small businesses.
For more information about the county's response to the pandemic, visit co.washington.or.us/covid-19.
At the state level, Washington County is also supporting a network comprised of more than 70 Latino- or Latina-led and allied organizations and leaders in Oregon.
The group has called upon elected leaders to make sure that everyone in the state has access to the resources they need during the COVID-19 crisis, according to a press release by the network on Thursday, April 30.
"Latinx communities in our state are not receiving the information and resources necessary to protect themselves and their families or to survive economically," said Anthony Veliz, spokesman for the newly formed Oregon Latinx Leadership Network.
The announcement added that Hispanic and Latino Oregonians have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, accounting for at least 26% of all cases, yet they represent just over 13% of the state's total population.
The network's "call to action" urged Oregon's federal, state and local elected officials to provide for the critical short-term relief and long-term recovery for Hispanic communities. Some of those actions include to fund and partner with Hispanic community-based organizations and establish "resource hubs," increase representation of Hispanic and other communities of color on response task forces and across all levels of government, and ensure equitable access to COVID-19 testing and treatment.
"Our community of Latinx organizations, leaders and allies are committed to safeguarding vulnerable populations as they require critical services, face financial crises and overcome recovery challenges," Veliz said. "We ask decision-makers across Oregon to move these policy, practice and funding recommendations forward to address the immediate needs and ongoing disparities for the Latinx community."
According to the group, as of July 1, 2019, Oregon's Hispanic or Latino population topped 560,900 people, with an estimated 74,000 undocumented immigrants.
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