Coronavirus fears grow for vulnerable Santa Clara County residents as economy reopens
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

As businesses across Santa Clara County begin to reopen, some officials worry poor communities of color hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic will experience a surge in new cases.

To prevent a spike among some of the county’s most vulnerable residents, Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez penned a proposal to create an outreach team that would provide basic health education, free masks and guidance on how to access testing.

The goal, Chavez said, is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in areas with the largest concentration of cases as the county begins reopening the economy. The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the plan Tuesday.

“We’ve been trying to think about the very best way to reach hard-to-serve communities,” she said. “I’ve seen how many people are working without masks, how many businesses were open against the shelter-in-place order, and it helped me understand (we’re) not really getting deep into the community.”

Though the virus has swept its way across the county, low-income Latino residents, mainly concentrated in San Jose’s East Side, have been more vulnerable to catching the virus and are four times as likely to die.

The program would target communities disproportionately affected by the virus through outreach and education efforts, where community leaders would describe the county’s most recent health orders in multiple languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese and Tagalog.

Called the Community Health and Business Engagement Team, the program would consist of 200 community members, county workers and nonprofit partners who knock on doors across businesses and homes to remind the community about safe social-distancing protocols and health orders. The team members would help residents access available testing by connecting them with the nearby sites.

“As the economy opens up, we want to be protective of the ZIP codes and the neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by COVID-19,” Chavez said. “We’re looking for people who have language skills, interpersonal skills and who have the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently.”

Though many small businesses are eager to reopen, Chavez said it is important for the public to remain cautious. Modeled after Promotores De Salud, the program would help residents stay alert and follow health orders as more people begin congregating in public spaces and going back to work.

The proposal comes on the heels of the county’s announcement Monday to provide six free testing sites for COVID-19 in areas with higher rates of recent cases. Chavez said overcrowding in low-income households, a lack of access to health care services and protective equipment have contributed to the rise in cases. With Latino residents making up one-third of all cases and deaths, Chavez said it is critical to perform outreach in these neighborhoods.

“This is a crucial time to make sure that our community members and businesses are kept up to date with safety measures and that health guidelines are enforced,” she added.

Victor Vasquez, director of organizing and policy for the nonprofit SOMOS Mayfair, said the program will help reach high-risk groups. His nonprofit’s partnership with the county on census outreach and voter registration, he added, has helped educate and reach new community members, including service workers, seniors and people who speak English as a second language — a strategy they plan on implementing with the new program.

“Through health education and an element of policy change and organizing, we have the connections to work with families, children and working class folks that are often high risk,” he said. “We’re connected, we’re a family — that’s a strength.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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