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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Alarmed By Number Of Latino COVID-19 Cases, NC Pours $500K Into New Partnership

Young man at a free COVID-19 testing event at Mecklenburg County's Valerie C. Woodard Center on June 27, 2020.
Laura Brache
A young man at a free COVID-19 testing event at Mecklenburg County's Valerie C. Woodard Center on June 27, 2020.

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic started, Vanessa Jacome has been worried. The Latina mother and wife from Charlotte knew her family’s chances of getting sick were as high as any other, but she still took every precaution possible.

“I think it’s so contagious, we’re all likely to get it,” said the Latina from Charlotte.

On June 5, Jacome started noticing symptoms like a sore throat and headaches. The next day, she had chills, a fever and an achy body. She got tested the following Monday, and her results came back positive three days later. Jacome’s husband and son had also been sick by then, but only she and her 15-year-old son tested positive.

They are two of the more than 20,000 Latinos with confirmed cases in North Carolina, where race and ethnicity have been reported. Jacome thinks they got it from the men who delivered their furniture.

“They were the only strangers that came into our home and without a mask. They touched parts of our house and the furniture and my husband helped them, so I think that’s how we got infected,” she said. “In hindsight, we should’ve been more careful and made them wear a mask before coming in.

Two weeks after her first symptoms, Jacome still didn’t feel well.

“I’m no longer in any pain, but I’m still fatigued, tired and nauseous,” she said.

A disproportionate number of coronavirus cases are in the Black and Latino communities, both nationally and in North Carolina. Latinos represent 46% of cases in the state as of July 1. To tackle the issue, North Carolina health Secretary Mandy Cohen announced a partnership with five local organizations focused on the Latino community.

Cohen said the state would provide $100,000 grants to AMEXCAN, True Ridge, Que Pasa, El Centro Hispano and Latin American Coalition of Charlotte.

“We are committed to working with the people on the ground who know their communities best,” Cohen said during a June 26 press conference.

This bigger effort is necessary to reach the Latino population. There are more than 300,000 undocumented Latinos in North Carolina. Fears of being deported make most of them afraid of law enforcement and distrustful of the government. Getting a test for a virus whose results are reported to the government is worrisome.

ICE says it won’t patrol health care facilities during the pandemic and the state encourages families in need of testing and treatment for COVID-19 to do so without fear, regardless of their legal status.

Factors Behind NCDHHS’s Decision

According to the NCDHHS, the coverage areas of the five groups receiving grants correspond with the 174 zip codes most impacted by the virus in North Carolina. Of those zip codes, 117 are areas with historically marginalized populations, like Latinos, and without a testing site.

Each group is expected to increase coronavirus prevention in high-risk Latino communities across the state through education, access to testing, contact tracing, addressing quarantine and isolation measures -- all while in communication with NCDHHS about their efforts.

When asked, a NCDHHS spokesperson shared there wasn’t an open application pool for this grant. The process happened internally and “the internal review, selection, notification of organizations and contract completion happened within one week.”

Factors at play were each group's geographic reach, recognized work in Latino communities and the strength of their relationships within them.

People wearing face masks at Compare Foods
Credit Laura Brache/WFAE
Shoppers outside a Compare Foods on Freedom Drive in Charlotte, a day after Gov. Roy Cooper's June 26, 2020 face mask requirement.

What Makes Latino Communities Higher Risk?

In recent weeks, NCDHHS has explained there are factors that may be contributing to the high rate of COVID-19 spread among Latino communities. Many work “essential” jobs in places where social distancing is not possible and health insurance is not provided. When these workers get sick, they often do not stay home because of the financial burden this puts on their families and livelihood.

When explaining risk factors, Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, Associate Professor in Family Medicine and Community Health at Duke University addressed Latinos directly during the department’s announcement.

“Latinx workers: you are essential to the economy of North Carolina," she said. "While others were able to isolate at home, you had to go out to work. You work in meat processing plants, in cleaning, in construction, in supermarkets, in hospitals, in kitchens, in many cases without access to personal protective equipment.

“The transmission of coronavirus happens while working shoulder-to-shoulder, all day in your jobs, in the break room and in the cars in which you travel together to work without wearing a mask. From there, to your homes and your friends,” Martinez-Bianchi added.

Drive-thru line at free COVID-19 testing event in Charlotte
Credit Laura Brache/WFAE
Drive-thru line at a free COVID-19 testing event at Mecklenburg County's Valerie C. Woodard Center on June 27, 2020.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Area One Of The Most Impacted

The Charlotte area is a COVID-19 hotspot and has the largest Latino population in the state. It’s up to the Latin American Coalition -- one of the five grant recipients -- to figure out how to best reach them to stop the spread of the coronavirus here. Jose Hernandez-Paris is executive director.

“The biggest challenge for us, to be completely honest, it’s our own community,” he said. “It’s misinformation shared on social media, the way the use of masks has been politicized and turned into something about weakness or power."

Hernandez-Paris says the state knows it’s difficult addressing groups that don’t trust the government. The coalition’s first plan is to go to Latinos directly using a mobile unit.

“We’re only going to see change if we go to the construction sites, if we go to the neighborhoods, go everywhere we can and share the right information and resources with church and other leaders we know,” he said.

Before the grant announcement, the state shared other partnerships with what they called, “diverse vendors.” Some will become testing sites because they are places trusted by and accessible to communities of color with few to no testing sites. Others will also serve as contact tracers representative of the communities they will serve, with many of them being bilingual. 

Qualified vendors for testing and laboratory reserve capacity include:

  • CW Williams Community Health Care Center

  • EGL Genetic Diagnostics

  • Laboratory Corporation of America Holding

  • Omnicare a CVS Health Company

  • Orig3n, Inc

  • United Providers of Health LLC

  • University Health System of East Carolina

Qualified vendors for contact tracing include:

  • 22nd Century Technologies

  • Arbor/Res-care

  • Atrium Staffing

  • Automated Health Systems

  • BizTechPeople LLC

  • CW Williams Community Health Care Center

  • Global Contact Services

  • Grace Federal Solutions LLC

  • Intellect Resources

  • K4 Solutions Inc

  • Keystone Peer Review

  • Maximus Health Services

  • Medical Edge Recruitment LLC

  • PRC

  • Public Consulting Group Inc

  • ResponsePoint

  • SouthEastern Healthcare of NC

  • Spanish Speaking LLC

  • SWC Group LLP dba Healthcare Solutions

  • WellSky 

Laura Brache is a Report for America corps member and covers immigration and the Latino community in Charlotte for WFAE and La Noticia.

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