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Mayor Implores Black, Latino Communities: Heed COVID Warnings and Stay Home

Patti Singer

Mayor Lovely Warren’s uncle died from COVID-related illness, and she wants communities of color to heed warnings about the virus. Provided photo

Ministers making Facebook videos. Robocalls to homes.

Using whatever tools are available and getting the word out however it can be shared, Rochester and Monroe County officials will be increasing efforts to implore communities of color to stay home and if people must go out, to stay six feet from another.

So far, Monroe County has not experienced the disparate death rate in African American and Latino communities as seen in places such as Milwaukee, Detroit and New York City.

The fear is that it could.

“If we do not exercise social distancing as well as staying home, then we will see those numbers increase and we will see what’s happening across the country happen right here,” said Mayor Lovely Warren at a news conference April 8 to address the issue of COVID-19 disparities.

The mayor acknowledged that her uncle, who lived in New York City and resided in a communal setting, recently died from COVID-related illness.

“If we do not listen, we will all lose loved ones and people in our circle will suffer and succumb to this disease,” she said. “I’m asking people to listen, to understand that this is not something we’re playing about or joking about. …

“We have an obligation to the people that we love, to the people that we care about, to make sure we do everything possible to save their lives, to go home to our families and make sure that we’re delivering that message to every person that we care about. We want them to be on the other side of this. We can. That’s the one thing that is so very, very important. We can make it to the other side of this virus if we do what it takes today to save lives tomorrow.”

News reports about the numbers of African Americans across the country dying from COVID-19 have raised concerns in Rochester. Communities of color are affected by differences in access to health care, which can lead to underlying conditions and make them more susceptible to dying from COVID-19.

The African American and Latino health coalitions released a statement April 8 that preliminary data from Monroe County currently is not showing disparities, but that could change. The coalitions are part of the regional health planning agency Common Ground Health, which is working with Monroe County, the city and the health systems to share data.

On April 8, the Monroe County Department of Public Health for the first time released data on race and ethnicity in its daily COVID-19 report. Of the 34 deaths, 18.2% are among Black people and 9.1% are among Hispanic people. Of the 86 hospitalized patients, 27.9% are Black and 18.6% are Hispanic. Of the 39 people in intensive care, 53.8% are Black and 5.1% are Hispanic.

Warren said that as the pandemic hit the U.S. there was a belief that African Americans and Latinos could not catch COVID-19.

“I think that myth has permeated the community, so people at the time were not taking it as seriously as we should have been,” Warren said. “Now we know that actually people of color across this country are dying at alarming rates because of this. … We need to make sure we’re educating the community properly so they can have the right information to make the best decisions possible for them and their families.”

The community lost avenues for dispensing health information when barber shops and hair salons were closed by the state as being nonessential businesses. The elimination of regular church services meant one less place for people to get accurate information.

Warren said people in communities of color have commented that the message seemed mixed. She said that people would stay home during the week, then go visiting on the weekend. She spoke of people having car parties or sleepovers.

“I know this is hard for our folks,” she said. “We’re used to gathering with our family and friends. But we want to tell them that even that scenario, where you know this is your circle, that you can actually kill them if you’re not careful. It is our responsibility to save each other in this situation, and that message needs to be clearly delivered by trusted ambassadors, whichever way we have possible to deliver those messages.”