Just Now Seeing the Worst

There seems to be a lot of talk these days about reopening things and getting on with our lives. About the damage that is done to our economy. About “herd immunity.” About wearing facemasks or not.

I recently read an article that stated that overall, our response to the coronavirus in the US has been typically “American” – focused very much on our individual rights and not wanting anyone to tell us what to do.

I get it, I really do. But from where I stand, from my daily ministry context as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Field Personnel working with Spanish-speaking immigrants and refugees, I’m seeing a very different side of things.

Several weeks ago, a single mom of three called to tell me that her sister, who lives with her, had tested positive for COVID-19. The entire household (two adults and five children) was quarantined. Another lady asked for help as well that week. She contracted COVID-19 at work and lived in a home with several other families. She asked for food and toiletries so that she could quarantine in her room and try to keep others safe.

That week, we put in place a protocol to help Spanish-speaking Latino COVID-19 patients that includes regular check-ins with them by phone or text and leaving food or boxes of supplies on their doorsteps. We include facemasks, acetaminophen, soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.

Since those first two reports of illness among people we know, we’ve heard of many more persons in the Latino community who have tested positive for the virus. They’re all immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, and Mexico.  They include:

A paternal grandmother who took over the care of her grandson when the toddler’s mom and other grandparents tested positive. The baby also has COVID-19.

A recently-arrived single mom seeking asylum shows symptoms of COVID-19 but hasn’t been tested. Her landlord insists that she needs to move, but she can’t find a job to pay rent and has no friends willing to take her in.

An older gentleman with kidney failure has been in the US for many years. He rides the bus for dialysis treatments several times each week and was recently hospitalized with COVID-19.

A couple who were discretely trying to earn enough money to pay the rent and avoid homelessness by doing odd jobs in the community. Both became ill and tested positive for COVID-19 and are now quarantined, along with their 76-year-old mother and two young sons.

An asylum seeker under electronic monitoring. He’s a single dad who rents a room and has recently moved to a new house and worries that he may have infected others before he became ill.

And more and more of our immigration legal services clients are unable to complete crucial steps in their immigration process. Some are ill themselves, but other parts of the system have also been affected by COVID-19. They may be unable to complete the required physical exam, or have difficulty scheduling appointments to sign necessary documents in a timely manner.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, data on ethnicity is included for approximately 65% of the COVID-19 cases reported by our region. Of the 690 positive cases in the Rappahannock Health District where data on ethnicity is included, 50% are persons of Latino or Hispanic heritage; Latinos represent 33% of the total 1,059 positive cases. For a geographic area with a Latino population of just under 11%, this is a rather astounding number. And particularly when you consider that this population is often uninsured or underinsured.

These are some of the most vulnerable persons in our community. Early on in the pandemic, as people were losing jobs and struggling to adjust to at-home schooling and the loss of childcare, many of the folks among whom we work were still doing OK. Hours were cut, but many reported that they were still employed. Older children cared for the younger ones, or parents with reduced work schedules were able to cover the bases.

Our Latino friends were working in restaurant kitchens, where clean-up or prep work still had to be done for carry-out orders. They were still working on construction or remodeling sites and engaging in day-labor type jobs, or doing landscaping and other outdoor work. They weren’t in jobs where they could work from home or engage in social distancing.

But now, the effects of the coronavirus have hit the immigrant population full force, and while there is an overall clamor to open things back up and get back to normal, what we see is the panic within the Spanish-speaking community as they must now isolate themselves and quarantine — and see the earnings from those last few work hours disappear. They’re no longer OK.

They can get by on less, but it’s difficult to get by on nothing.

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