Covid precautions are part of the Hispanic community’s efforts to tend to the good of the community

On a snowy January morning, Luis Portillo stood in line at the side of a busy road in Silver Spring, Maryland – a suburb just north of Washington, DC – with about 200 other people, waiting his turn to get tested. for covid-19 at Mary’s Center, a federally licensed health center. Portillo, a 65-year-old baker from El Salvador, got his hands stuck in his coat pockets and shivered in the 25-degree temperature.

Although Portillo is not particularly concerned about covid – he is vaccinated and strengthened and had a mild case last year – he is discharged because it is necessary to “take care of yourself as much as possible” to avoid d infect others who may be more vulnerable, he says in Spanish. After developing symptoms after a holiday party and finding out another partygoer had tested positive, Portillo decided he needed a test. He was worried about exposing colleagues or his four roommates, who remained symptom-free.

Similarly, Andres Bueno, 40, a Colombian construction worker who is queuing, said he and many others are now “a little more confident because we know more about the virus”, but still “worried to affect others”. I think that’s more what you’re worried about,” he said in Spanish. Bueno, who is vaccinated and intends to get vaccinated, also had contact with someone who tested positive.

The rush for testing at Mary’s Center reflected some of the unique needs of its large Hispanic patient population, many of whom work in public jobs without paid sick leave or live in multigenerational households with older adults at greater risk of serious illness.

He also pointed to a broad sense of collectivism, or a belief in the importance of caring for others in the community, which public health experts say helps foster health behaviors among some Latino immigrant groups. . That attitude may have helped motivate those patients to get tested, said Marvin Ruiz-Chávez, who manages covid testing and vaccination at the Silver Spring site.

Community concerns — bolstered by strong outreach efforts — also likely played a role in boosting vaccination rates for Hispanics in recent months, which now equal those of non-Hispanic whites in the United States. . Sixty percent of each group received at least one dose.

Three-quarters of patients at Mary’s Center, which has five clinics and several school health centers in the Washington metro area, are Hispanic and 65% earn less than the federal poverty level, according to data from the Federal Health Resources and Administration of services, the agency that oversees federally licensed health centers. When the omicron variant took hold, demand for testing at the center skyrocketed.

For many who waited hours in test lines last month, Mary’s Center provides safe and comfortable access to care. Many of his patients are undocumented, have limited English skills and lack health insurance, which largely excludes them from the mainstream healthcare system. However, Mary’s Center staff members are bilingual Spanish speakers, patients can get tested for free with minimal paperwork, and patients are not required to provide information about their citizenship status.

Before the omicron surge, the Silver Spring site was testing an average of 70 people a day, Ruiz-Chávez said. By mid-December, hundreds of people were showing up, forcing the center to limit daily testing to around 200 people due to limited supplies, staff and time.

Testing sites across the country serving a wide variety of groups saw similar increases in volume as covid cases soared. Yet Ruiz-Chávez cited a common cultural emphasis on living in harmony with others – called live together in Spanish – as a key motivator for Latino test seekers, many of whom mentioned the need to take care of their own health to protect others from the virus.

Honduran immigrant Carla Velazquez, 27, echoed that sense of responsibility: “We don’t want to be porters,” she said in Spanish, while standing in line wrapped in a large blanket. Velazquez and her husband, who had both been vaccinated, were exposed to a relative with covid and felt compelled to protect others who attend their church or gather in other shared spaces.

The gap in vaccination rates began to close in earnest over the summer, which has been widely attributed to the Biden administration’s efforts to scale up access to vaccinations in underserved communities and in the workplace. local sensitization on the ground carried out by culturally credible actors. local organizations and facilitated by federal funds.

Without a doubt, access strongly influenced vaccine uptake in the Hispanic community, especially among immigrants, said Sandra Echeverría, associate professor of public health education at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, due to many social disadvantages, including language barriers, unfamiliarity with the health care system, inability to take time off work, and fear of immigration enforcement.

But to what extent has the collectivism embedded in Hispanic culture — particularly among immigrants and their families — also helped close the vaccination gap and encourage people to get tested? “There could be a link there, we just don’t know” due to lack of data and difficulty in measuring a difficult-to-define concept, said Frank Penedo, professor of psychology and medicine at the ‘University of Miami.

“I think access was key, so let’s not forget that,” Echeverría said, “but that cultural orientation too, the sense of community, doing for oneself and for others, exists,” and plays without no doubt a role.

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