Why so many Latinos are getting coronavirus Pt II
“There’s a history for this with public health with tuberculosis,” he said. “If people were not able to go back home, they got put up in a hotel. A lot of this ongoing community spread over the last month could have been prevented by better public health, by figuring out where the problem was at a local level.”
Fairfax County, which has 1.1 million people, had reported 9,482 infections and 331 deaths as of Monday. Officials say they plan to rent an additional 160 hotel rooms for quarantining, on top of the 221 that are mostly occupied.
Local governments also have struggled to get Spanish-speaking residents information about the coronavirus and to track its spread in the community.
Spanish-language text alerts recently launched by Fairfax reach fewer than 200 residents, despite a population of about 53,000 who speak mostly Spanish. About 39,000 residents of Prince William County primarily speak Spanish, but only 53 have signed up for their alerts.
Steven Woolf, director emeritus of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine’s Center on Society and Health, said increased testing and the ability to track people potentially exposed to an infected person are crucial to control community spread of the disease. But, Woolf said, many contact-tracing efforts do not include interpreters.
Another obstacle local governments and health-care providers must contend with is fear. Jair Carrasco, an organizer with D.C. street-vendor advocacy group Vendadores Unidos, has heard from immigrant families afraid to take sick relatives to a hospital that they are concerned immigration agents could be lurking there.
“On top of the virus and people not wanting to go outside due to safety concerns, you’re also dealing with immigrant communities with a long history of police abuse and discrimination,” said Carrasco, 29, who began to feel ill in early May after his girlfriend came home from her supermarket job feeling feverish and dizzy. She later tested positive for the coronavirus.
While he waited to be seen by a doctor, he decided to try out the District’s Spanish-language coronavirus hotline. He was transferred three times, he said, and given a new number to call. He never found the food-delivery service he was seeking. “What if I was only a Spanish speaker and they’re giving me this go-round?” he said. “That can make the difference between someone getting help and people suffering.”
D.C. officials said they consulted with a wide range of organizations that work in the Latino community before launching robocalls in Spanish and attempting to streamline the District’s complex web of bureaucracy for non-English speakers.
“Something we saw at the [outset] that was really devastating is, we had residents dying in their homes because they had not sought care,” said Tomás Talamante, the deputy chief of staff for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). “That’s the message we’ve been trying to get out: Regardless of immigration status, regardless of socioeconomic situation, we want our residents to seek care.”
Tip of an iceberg
On a recent morning, a line of patients stretched down the block outside the Upper Cardozo Health Center in Columbia Heights. The clinic — which tests more than 80 people daily, about half of them Latino — opens its doors at 8 a.m. Patients have been known to arrive as early as 6.
Medical director Blanca Toso worries that they are just the tip of a much larger iceberg. She spends her weekends making calls to patients, reminding those who have tested positive to treat the symptoms, isolate and call for help if conditions get worse. Though the respiratory effects of the coronavirus are well known, she said, many of her patients are unaware of the disease’s other manifestations. Often, if a patient is ill but does not have a hacking cough, Toso said, they don’t think it’s possible that they could have the virus. Some try home remedies as a cure: herbal teas or roots mailed from relatives outside the United States.
“A lot of these people still have to go to work every day, so they’re not able to keep up with the news or every new symptom that we’re discovering about this virus,” Toso said. “They may not think they have the virus, but many of them do.” Edith Morejon rarely ventures outside her apartment in Hyattsville, Md., anymore. Still, she said, it feels as if the virus is closing in.
Her husband, who works during the week in Pennsylvania and shares an apartment with four other men, recently came home with a fever and a cough.
Within days, he was diagnosed with covid-19. Morejon, 40, was not able to get tested, despite having a low fever. Her doctor advised her to try again if her symptoms got worse, she said.
To protect their three children — ages 12, 10 and 6 — Morejon kept her husband isolated inside the bedroom. When the children ran to hug her, she waved them off, unsure whether it was safe. Morejon has done everything officials have asked. She keeps up to date on covid-19 news and signed up for text alerts from Prince George’s County. Even though Maryland recently expanded its testing options, as of Thursday, she had not been able to secure a test.
“I’m just waiting here in my house, passing my quarantine so as not to infect anyone else,” Morejon said. “I don’t know what else to do.”
The virus can dissolve what little economic stability some families have.
Before the pandemic struck, Danilo and Isabela Rivera relied mostly on her income as a hotel housekeeper near Dulles International Airport. He lost his job as a house painter last year.
Now, with Isabela bedridden, Danilo puts on a cloth mask every morning to stand outside a 7-Eleven with other day laborers.
He leaves food donated by a neighborhood church by his wife’s bedroom door and checks in by phone with their son, Alan, who doesn’t understand why he can’t just come home.
“He cried a lot the first three days,” Danilo said. “We’ve wanted to give him a hug and kiss him but haven’t been able.”
In Northeast Washington, Jose Mardoqueo Reyes was hospitalized with covid-19 in late April, the day his wife, Blanca Bonilla, was discharged from a hospital after her symptoms subsided. He died three weeks later. The family isn’t sure how the virus entered their household of six, though it had several possible avenues.
Bonilla worked at a McDonald’s before the pandemic took hold in March. Mardoqueo Reyes, a well-known Spanish-language sportscaster in the region, also worked in construction. His eldest son, Mardo Reyes, 28, drove a delivery truck. Mardo’s wife, Emmy, who has been on leave from her job as a nurse, was the first to experience symptoms and was briefly hospitalized last month.
Ingrid Reyes, 26, Mardo’s sister, lives elsewhere in the neighborhood and so far has stayed healthy. After her father spent three weeks on a ventilator, she asked for two weeks off from her job as a construction site traffic controller to help care for her family.
Instead, she said, her boss fired her. Mardoqueo Reyes died on May 12. The family is now seeking help with the $14,000 burial costs.
“Everything just hit us at once,” his daughter said.