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Knowing COVID-19 Facts is Part of Staying Safe

Patti Singer

Candice Lucas

News about COVID-19 changes almost daily, and it comes from so many sources that it can be hard to keep up.

Minority Reporter talked with Candice Lucas, chair of the African American Health Coalition, and Lucia Colindres and Dr. Isabel Diana Fernandez, co-chairs of the Latino Health Coalition about the knowledge you need to protect yourself and your family.

Lucas is chief community engagement officer for the Monroe County Department of Human Services.

Colindres is the national health service corps program manager for Rochester Regional Health.

Lucia Colindres

Fernandez is an associate professor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Because of the conversational nature of the interview, the responses are combined and edited for space and clarity.

How do you think misconceptions about COVID-19 are getting traction?

When this started, the information that was coming out about the vulnerable people were that they were elderly. That gave younger people the thought that they were not going to get it. The testing and the questions, in the beginning, were about people who traveled. Many of the folks in the black community weren’t traveling, so there was a thought that they’re not talking to us. … At As it developed, we realized this disease is indiscriminate, it knows no bounds, it’s not about age, it’s not about race or gender. Everybody can get it.

Dr. Isabel Diana Fernandez

Is there a sense that the first information is what people hold onto and stop listening?

Folks aren’t thinking that it’s going to change every day. Even when it changes, it takes some time for the messages to get out to everybody. There’s a lot of information that people get overwhelmed with and they don’t know what’s real and what’s not real and they say forget it, whatever is going to happen to me is going to happen and I’m not going to stress over it anymore. Or they may listen to the person who resonates with them the most. That may or may not be the person that is giving the most accurate information. … For Latinos, one issue is language barrier. Information in our community wasn’t consistent with making sure that it was provided in Spanish. Whether it is an announcement around free food or anything else, the information took a little longer to get to some people.

Are myths about the cause or how to treat COVID-19 getting in the way of reality?

The fact is it is here and this is what’s happening now. We need to deal with here and now and you need to protect yourself. If you’re not concerned about yourself, you need to protect others that you love. … Some people can get it and not get any symptoms and be fine. Because I’m asymptomatic doesn’t mean the next person is going to be asymptomatic. The next person may be in the ICU and ultimately lose their lives. So we have to respect this new disease as we learn about it. … So let’s do what we need to do to get there.

With no vaccine and no cure for the virus, are people trying remedies they think will keep them safe?

Some family members said to drink warm water and lemon. Or take vitamin C or vitamin E. But if you’ve been exposed, if someone sneezes in front of me, that won’t prevent me from getting it. … What I tell people is the most important thing we know right now is that if we stay at least six feet apart, are washing our hands, covering our coughs and sneezes, staying home as much as possible, and if we have to go outside we are covering our nose and mouth, that is what we can do at this point.

Religion is a big part of many people’s lives. Has it been difficult to not have church services?

We see in some states where faith leaders are still gathering. People have a right to their beliefs. This is a public health issue, so that is concerning if there are gatherings. … There is the thought that … this is a test of your faith. If you believe in God, God will protect you and so you should not stop going to church. And if you are not going to church it’s because your faith isn’t strong enough. The faith leaders in our community have done a really good job of encouraging people to stay home and finding alternative ways for them to participate as a congregation via video.

How have reports about percentages of Blacks and Latinos being hospitalized affected how messages about the illness are delivered or received?

People started to think that health disparities were because of COVID. What’s important for us to say is no, this is not new. It’s just exacerbated. The poor health conditions that African Americans and Latinos have is a result of the structures in which we live in this country. COVID is not the cause of health disparities. … African Americans and Latinos are more at risk for this, sadly, because the jobs that are held disproportionately by African Americans and Latinos are those positions that are on the front line, that don’t offer the people the opportunity to work from home, are those positions where people are at higher risk because they’re exposed. We’re thinking about environmental services … grocery store clerks … bus drivers … home health aides. … When we talk about underlying conditions, we know that Blacks and Latinos live sicker, die younger and have poorer health outcomes than White counterparts. … When we think that those with underlying conditions are going to be higher risk for COVID, it’s only obvious that’s going to be disproportionately in the Black and Brown communities. This is not because of COVID. It’s another unfortunate example.

Has all the attention on COVID been a barrier to people getting care for other conditions?

Some people are afraid to go to the emergency department because of exposure. If they don’t have a primary care doctor, they might not even go to the emergency department. They may have serious medical conditions like heart disease. We want to make sure they are contacting their primary care doctors to connect with them and check out to make sure that they’re doing OK. Initially, it was stay away from the emergency department, but if you have a condition and you need care, you have to seek that treatment.

(The Monroe County Department of Health has a phone line dedicated to COVID-19. Call 585-753-5555.)