Just when we thought the pandemic was coming to an end, Los Angeles County appears to have another surge, with cases rising by 75% last week. Los Angeles County Public Health reports that the largest number of cases occur among those aged 30 to 49.
The Latino community is most affected, with a total of 145,2774 COVID-19 cases. The Los Angeles County Daily COVID-19 Data indicates a testing positivity rate of 12.6% for the last seven days, while hospitalizations have been on the rise since the beginning of November. In 36 states, 67% of Latinos have been vaccinated based on race and ethnic breakdown vaccination rates according to Kaiser Family Foundation data.
Veronique Diaz is a mother and a community health worker for Clinica Romero, a clinic located on 2032 Marengo Street in LA. In October 2020, the Community Health Worker Initiative (CHWOI) was launched to conduct community outreach across the county.
Diaz is a mother of three children; two boys and a girl. She started as a volunteer at Clinica Romero when one of her children was in high school. “Someone from Clinica Romero gave us a workshop one day and I raised my hand and participated,” Diaz said.
Around that time, a promotora from Clinica Romero mentioned to Diaz that she would be a good candidate as a community health worker. “I told the promotora I was too shy for that and that I couldn’t do that, but she convinced me and here I am, six years later,” Diaz said.
Today, as part of her work, she aims to provide as much information on COVID-19 to as many people as possible.
She is a native of the city of LA,aware of the needs of her community. She never saw herself working in the healthcare field. “I was always that student growing up who knew the answer but never really raised my hand,” Diaz said.
Whenever Diaz is out in the field, she said that she shares her personal experience of growing up without medical care or any health care access.
CALÓ NEWS interviewed Diaz about her experience and the lessons learned.
Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
VERONIQUE DIAZ, 44, LOS ANGELES, HEALTH WORKER, SHE/HER HISPANIC
WHAT IMPACT DID COVID-19 HAVE ON HEALTH WORKERS?
I believe that the pandemic brought our community together. We both shared the fear of the unknowns of COVID-19. So I think that as community health workers, we really had to step up and support our community as much as we could. We all shared that fear of being exposed to the virus. It was hard to go out in the field when we first started at the beginning of the pandemic. Every day we were out there giving the community the latest information on the virus because the safety rules were constantly changing. But we did what we could, and I feel like we had the need to step up and help our community in the ways that we could. We’d follow protocol, which required us to wear face shields, masks, and gloves.
AS A COMMUNITY HEALTH WORKER WHAT HAS BEEN THE HARDEST PART OF WORKING DURING THE PANDEMIC?
The hardest part of my personal experience is being exposed to the virus and exposing my loved ones. Every time I would come back from work, I would come in through the back door and use the restroom from the back to take a shower. I would also put all of my clothes in the washer right away. Lysol was always in my car, as were wipes, and I would disinfect as much as I could. To be completely honest, it was overwhelming and stressful at times.
I think it was really important to talk to my kids and my husband about me distancing myself for their own sake and health. I would tell them to not feel bad. One time, my younger kid complained to me that I wasn’t hugging him as much or showing him affection. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to, but because I was looking out for him and because I was also really scared to expose him. We didn’t have the testing kits when I first started doing this. So, most of the time, we would have to go to the testing sites and wait days for results. So yeah, it was really hard for them too.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU AS A HEALTH WORKER TO HELP THE LATINO COMMUNITY?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, so I know the needs of my community. Stepping up and being able to help and inform my community is important. I grew up without access to medical [care]. I grew up not knowing there was help out there. So, being able to help and give out all that information about vaccines, testing sites, and other resources we have makes me happy.
WHAT SERVICES WERE PROVIDED TO THE LATINO COMMUNITY REGARDING COVID-19?
We provided the most recent COVID-19 information to the community. We also handed out masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves. We also provided information as to where to go get vaccinated and how to set up an appointment at the testing sites. We would help the community set up the appointments because sometimes they wouldn’t understand the language on the forms. We also had food distributions to help families in need. Out of all the resources, I want to say the vaccine sites were the most successful. Sometimes when we did the food pantries, we were left with a lot of food, so what we did was go back into the field and distribute the bags individually to people we would see in the streets.
HOW WERE YOU ENCOURAGING THE LATINO COMMUNITY TO TAKE THE COVID-19 VACCINE?
I think that one of the things that worked during our outreach was sharing my own personal experience. I would always listen, even if they were hesitant to hear us out. I would also ask them questions like, “Why don’t you want to get vaccinated?” I would listen to every word they had to say and sometimes I would convince them and sometimes I wouldn’t. Some people were in denial and did not believe COVID-19 was real. They would say it was something political and that it was not happening. Telling people our story and our experiences really helped.
When vaccines came out for COVID-19 we were one of the first people to get vaccinated because it was a requirement. Luckily, for me, I didn’t test positive until two years later. The vaccine really helped because I was in the field, engaging with people and working at the testing sites as well. I was a little hesitant to get the vaccine in the beginning but I also believed that it was going to protect me and my family. Vaccines have been out there for a while now, so why wouldn’t this one work?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT WORKING WITH THE LATINO COMMUNITY?
I love helping people. I love coming back to where I was born and raised and being able to give out all those resources we have. As I mentioned before, I was one of the many people who grew up without medicine. My mom didn’t have insurance, we didn’t have the information and resources we have today. My mom would always have to pay out of pocket. I had teeth problems and it was really hard to go to the dentist because we don’t have medical or any type of insurance and my mom didn’t know of any resources. So, being able to go back to my community and educate them and inform them that there is a lot of help out there and resources where they can go, feels great. It feels good to do that for my community.
FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU CAN GIVE TO LATINOS TODAY?
You know, sometimes when we go up to people during our outreach, they turn us away. My advice would be that it’s always OK to listen, it’s always OK to believe in someone and to trust. We as community health workers, and from my personal experience, feel that I’m one of the trusted advocates for them. Again, I want to ask the people that we reach out to in the field to believe in us and be more open-minded. Overall, we get a lot of positive feedback from the community so what we are doing is really working. We have people who do listen to us and we also have people who don’t but we are in this together, so COVID-19 we are in this together. We all must protect ourselves and keep being positive because COVID-19 is still here and we can’t pretend it’s not. There are still people who are not vaccinated so that doesn’t help us at all. That’s why it’s essential that we do [get vaccinated] and we set an example for other people in our communities.