NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — As the Delta Variant wave ended, Julia Magnani was doing her part to protect herself and the families she cares for from COVID-19.
“I constantly check myself for COVID because kids are transmitters,” Magnani said. “I was working with children and I had to make sure I didn’t bring the virus from house to house.”
However, she had to put her work on hold as the holidays approached when she started to feel unwell on a Saturday morning.
“I just had a sore throat, nothing else,” she said.
She knew she needed to take a COVID-19 test before returning to work, but she had no extra money or could even find home tests at nearby pharmacies.
Magnani is also from Bolivia and speaks mainly Spanish. She says it was impossible to find public sites with interpreters open on weekends.
“We need guides, guides who can tell us what to do in Spanish,” she said.
Magnani’s issues are common within the Hispanic community and have become more relevant throughout the pandemic. She says COVID-19 has opened her eyes to the lack of readily available non-English health information and resources.
But she thanks organizations, like Unión Migrante, that have stood up for the region’s Hispanic and immigrant communities.
For the past month, the immigrant rights group has operated its own site every Thursday night at the First Unitarian Universalist Church off Claiborne Ave. The all-volunteer group handed out hundreds of tests during bad weather and a lack of home testing.
Their goal is to provide free COVID-19 care and information to people they believe are essential to the workforce during a time when they are not at work.
“We are the only ones here doing this kind of work,” said volunteer Olga Tiburcio.
Organizers say they want to give back to a group of people who might be afraid to access typical health care due to fears of eviction or other negative reactions.
“Immigrants have kept our economy running during the pandemic,” said volunteer Rachel Taber. “They run the meat factories, they harvest our food from the fields.”
Unión Migrante’s effort extends beyond the site. The volunteers offer a home test delivery service and combat misinformation about the pandemic and the vaccine via Facebook live on their page.
However, they are not the only organization focused on helping immigrants. The Mexican Consulate in New Orleans offers its own health care in its office in the Warehouse District.
“When it comes to health, we are open to the entire Hispanic community.” Mexico’s Consul General from New Orleans, Maria Patricia Deluera, said.
Every Friday morning, the consulate offers free tests, and periodically clinics will help set up vaccination sites for any appointments.
“We vaccinated more than a thousand people through the consulate,” said Miguel Angel Ferreira.
Ferreira has been tasked with organizing the consulate’s response to the virus and even partnering with hospital systems and clinics to set up mobile sites in high-density Hispanic neighborhoods in Louisiana and Mississippi.
It’s part of the mission to meet Hispanics where they are and when they are available.
“(Hispanics) work in the hospitality industry. They work in grocery stores. They work in malls. They are employees and due to the type of work they do, they could not work remotely,” said Dr. Shantel Hébert-Magee.
Hébert-Magee is the Louisiana Department of Health’s medical director for the New Orleans area. She has worked to provide resources at the department’s testing and vaccination sites to help people feel comfortable with medical care.
“Sometimes we target the Vietnamese community. Sometimes we target the Latinx community Sometimes we target the African American community,” she said.
She says sometimes her efforts are simple but effective — like playing music to calm people’s nerves or providing coloring books for children while parents take their COVID-19 tests. But the most important resource is having an interpreter on hand to break down language barriers.
Hébert-Magee says finding someone who can speak certain languages and dialects can sometimes be difficult, but it’s an even tougher task for smaller, local clinics like the NOELA Community Health Center — especially during peak times. .
“Every time one of our employees tests positive, we don’t have someone to replace them immediately,” said quality improvement manager Jose Flores.
Finding the perfect way to deliver information, testing and vaccines to the Hispanic community has been a challenge, as it has been for other minority groups. However, despite much adversity and hard work, healthcare workers were able to be shot in the arms at a high rate.
“The yield is higher in our Hispanic population compared to the African American and white population of the state of Louisiana,” Hébert-Magee said.
According to figures from the Louisiana State Health Department, about 54% of the Hispanic community in the state is fully vaccinated, or about 135,000 people. But some health care providers hope that number could be higher.
“It’s very low, very low. Because the possibility of getting vaccinated was there,” Ferreira said.
Ferreira says one of the challenges has been tackling misinformation and the lack of correct information on social media. These are some of the reasons New Orleans City Councilwoman Helena Moreno made it her personal mission to create the Hispanic Task Force at the start of the pandemic.
“This is the highest population growth in the city of New Orleans and also in Jefferson Parish. So they can’t be ignored and they won’t be,” Moreno said.
The task force uses the combined efforts of New Orleans, Jefferson Parish, hospital systems, Spanish media, advocacy groups and faith-based organizations like the Hispanic Apostolate. The group has organized sites in its Kenner office or in areas with a strong Hispanic presence in the region.
“We were able to offer many churches and places so that Hispanics wouldn’t be afraid or have cultural barriers,” the father said. Sergio Serrano, OP, director of the Hispanic Apostolate, said.
This is the mentality the task force wants to maintain for the rest of the pandemic and now with such access to the Hispanic community, the organizers eventually want to expand the coalition for emergencies beyond COVID-19.
“Now, as we hopefully begin to come out of this pandemic, the task force, I think, should evolve as well,” Moreno said.
And with a growing amount of healthcare options and resources for Hispanics, Magnani hopes more people consider rolling up their sleeves and going their separate ways as role models for the rest of the community.
“I got the vaccine to protect myself and others and would appreciate if others decide to do the same,” she said.
See a spelling or grammatical error in our story? Click here to report it. Please include the title.
Copyright 2022 WVUE. All rights reserved.