Newport News helps to address ethnic & health disparities to slow COVID spread

Posted at 10:00 PM, Aug 10, 2020

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - As a Latino, Manual Vazquez is already at a disadvantage when it comes to the coronavirus. The pandemic has disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority groups with high death rates in Latino, Black and Native American communities.

“It’s quite a difference; quite a disparity,” said Irene Ferrainolo, the Population Health Manager with the Peninsula Health District.

Ferrainolo said Hispanics across the state make up for 40% of COVID cases, while African Americans account for 23%.

“Many in the Hispanic community work in the service industry, so food servers, custodial work, childcare, healthcare,” she said. “It puts them at greater risk in terms of exposure because those are jobs that are well deemed necessary aren’t particularly well paid.”

As a rideshare driver, Vazquez said he takes precautions after work, so he doesn’t bring anything home to his family of five.

“I take precautions,” he said in Spanish. “I take off my clothes, wash my hands and shower.”

Vazquez came to Monday’s drive-thru testing event in the New Market neighborhood in Newport News, which is a community considered at-risk for contracting the virus.

Newport News Fire Chief Jeff Johnson was helping to run the event.

“We’re providing everyone with a bag that’s got four masks and four bottles of sanitizer, and information to prevent the spread,” said Johnson.

The one-stop shop event is part of a new, one-of-a-kind program with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and local leaders to make sure those who may be uninsured or live in underserved neighborhoods have the resources they need.

Newport News is one of 40 municipalities across the state taking part in the Health Equity Pilot Program, which helps to provide PPE and public health information to those in underserved and historically disadvantaged communities.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to go into those communities directly, get ahead of the COVID issue,” Johnson said.

The event opened up an hour early because of the long line of cars waiting to get in. About an an hour and a half into the event, volunteers said they served about 80 people.

The drive-thru event was held at the Peninsula Seventh Day Adventist Spanish Church, where they also were giving away food to those in need.

“There’s a lot of need around the community,” said Pastor Juan David Moreno. “We’ve been blessed that we can help a lot of people since March. We’ve been doing this every other weekend.”

Dr. Eli Llerandi, an elder at the church, said the need has grown since the pandemic started.

“Before the COVID crisis, we serviced 40-50 vehicles and families,” he said. “Now we have tripled that amount.”

The Health Equity Program uses a data-driven approach to select areas in the Commonwealth that are most in need and where residents are at risk of contracting COVID-19. Communities were identified using indicators such as chronic diseases, household income, age, disability status and other important health factors.

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