Dr. Mario Castro’s work as a pulmonologist at the University of Kansas Medical Center means he understands more than most what happens when information about the effects of the coronavirus is missing.
“When on the wards with our COVID units, I would say half of my patients are either Hispanic or African American,” he said. “Unfortunately, these community differences affect the sickest patients affected by COVID in the hospital.”
Castro, who is also vice chairman of clinical and translational research at the KU, was concerned about the health of Latinos and took time to educate about the virus.
“I’m a Cuban immigrant myself and I benefited from growing up here in Kansas City,” he said. “I definitely feel like it’s part of my responsibility, my duty, to give back to our community.”
Although less than 8% of the US population was affected in 2019, more than 20% of the country’s COVID-19 cases were commissioned by people who reportedly identify themselves as Latino or Hispanic Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also accounted for 12% of coronavirus deaths in the country.
But the complications of reaching the Latino population are as varied as the people who belong to it.
“In the beginning nothing was really in Spanish,” said Erica Andrade, chief program officer at The center, a non-profit organization that works to improve the educational, social and economic opportunities of Latinos. “A lot of our customers just needed a lot of information,” said Andrade.
Since then, El Centro has hosted digital forums and sponsored food giveaways that were also used to educate people about safety. The group is also developing a non-profit campaign for vaccine adoption.
The Spanish language resources have now expanded but are not always as effective as they could be, said Dr. Manuel Solano, program director of Community Health Council of Wyandotte County. His organization enrolls residents of the county in health insurance and supplies food for quarantine.
“Everything that has to do with the vaccine is written almost on a scientific basis,” said Solano.
Meanwhile, conspiracy theories and misinformation are often presented in easy-to-understand terms.
“Latinos have a lot of information that they don’t understand, so they have a lot of myths and a lot of misunderstanding,” he said. “We are not reaching most of the population because we are not writing the communications at the level that most people can read and write or listen to.”
This communication gap leaves many Latinos relying on word of mouth to get information.
Hector Alfonso Mompala is a press representative who lives in Overland Park and speaks fluent English. What he knows about the virus he learned from family members and employees who had COVID-19. These conversations didn’t worry him too much, he said through a face mask as he exited the El Rio Bravo supermarket in Kansas City, Kansas.
“If I get (COVID-19), I get it,” said the 24-year-old. “But I don’t want to pass it on to anyone, so I wear the mask.”
Mompala said he would likely pass on the chance for a vaccine if one was available to him.
Public Service Campaigns
To combat vaccination skepticism, Wyandotte County did Public Health Department Funds efforts to produce instructional videos, online graphics, and more in English and Spanish, all informed through advice from the county Health Equity Task Force.
Once the group has written a culturally appropriate message, members spread it on social media, on television and radio, in grocery stores, community centers, churches, and elsewhere.
“They are well-known leaders in these communities, so they know what is needed,” said Mariana Ramirez, who chairs and leads the task force’s testing subcommittee JUNTOS Center for the Promotion of Latino Health.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ramirez’s organization has recruited Latinos to participate in vaccine trials and has hosted a series of Spanish-language videos and podcasts.
The task force’s work has attracted national attention and a project led by the University of Kansas Medical Center I’ll try to expand the model to nine other counties in Kansas. It was funded with $ 3.5 million by the National Institutes of Health.
“Many Latinos live in multi-generational homes,” said Solano of the Community Health Council. Hence, all health and safety guidelines must take into account the possibility of school age children living with their aging Abuelita.
“Minorities and Latinos, we have paid the price and many deaths for not following the recommendations,” said Solano. “But the recommendations were not written to suit our cultural needs.”
Faith also plays a large role in many Latino lives, which is why the task force hired religious leaders – “and I’m not just talking about Catholics,” said Andrade of El Centro. “There are many very religiously conservative people who have the feeling that they are bringing something foreign into their bodies that should be suspected.”
While taking out the trash at work, grocery store employee Andres Torres Sanchez pointed out another important channel of information: local Spanish-language television and radio. His favorite station is KYYS, better known as La X 1250 AM. includes Wyandotte County’s coronavirus graphics on their website.
John Downing is General Manager of Telemundo KC, which reaches more televisions in the region than any other Spanish-speaking broadcaster.
“We’re delivering the news, delivering information in a way that will be relevant to the Hispanic community,” Downing said. “There are a lot of these things that may seem simple to us, but for someone who may be a new immigrant and haven’t lived in this country that long … most things are done differently.”
These youngest immigrants are often the hardest to reach.
“And then there is our undocumented population that has always tried to stay, you know how to hide,” she said. “Now we are asking them with contact tracing, for example, to come up and share their contacts with us and look up everything in a health department database in order to get the vaccine.”
To combat that fear, Ramirez said public health officials need to be completely transparent about how this personal information is being used and whether it could get into the hands of an agency like Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“When we think about why the Latino population was so badly affected, it was often because of their workplace,” said Mario Castro of the KU Med Center. “They were on the front lines, these low-paying jobs and in close proximity to others.”
He would like to see more employers give their workers time to quarantine, recover, or receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
This is one possible solution to the country’s looming dilemma – how 80-90% of the population can be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
“We have to stop thinking inside the box when thinking about how to get people vaccinated,” said Andrade. “You have the first generation (Latinos), you have new immigrants, you have all kinds. And you can’t assume that what works for one population will work for another. “