According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC), several
factors — underlying health conditions, dense living conditions,
employment in the service industry or as an essential worker,
access to health care and racism — contribute to the impact of COVID-19 on
people of color.
According to the governor’s office, five counties in the
Cleveland metro area remain in the “purple” zone, the highest
risk COVID-19 designation in Ohio’s pandemic tracking
system, only adding to the sense of urgency.
All of the research and statistics are reason to strongly
encourage Hispanics to protect themselves from exposure to
COVID-19. Medical conditions common in the Hispanic
community—diabetes, heart disease and others—only put them more
at risk of contracting coronavirus with debilitating or even
The effort is the brainchild of Dr. Raúl
medical director of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland
Clinic, and is being supported by the Hispanic Roundtable.
The educational and outreach program is being dubbed “COVER
“The vaccination won’t be the solution. The roll-out of the
vaccination will be slow,” said Dr. Schwartzman, who moved to
Cleveland from Argentina two decades ago. “For that
reason, we have to continue preventive health measures.”
first element is to educate the Hispanic community on the
importance of masking and social distancing. Thereafter, the
message will be on the importance of taking the vaccine,” said
José Feliciano, Sr., Hispanic
Roundtable chairman and a native of Puerto Rico.
Dr. Schwartzman stated he has been seeing Latino patients who
are confused, scared, and frustrated because of contradictory
messages they are receiving from political and government
leaders. While Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine preached caution
from the very beginning, President Donald Trump was much
more cavalier about wearing a mask and the validity of
scientific information being forwarded by public health experts.
The education and outreach effort also have some tough
traditions to overcome in the Latino community—hugs,
handshakes and other close physical contact as signs of
affection. Health and medical officials must convince
Hispanic families that their safety trumps those traditions. In
addition, many Latinos simply don’t have access or trust the
medical community after years of language barriers and a general
lack of cultural competence.
family, and cultural bonds also are common sources of social
support, especially during the pandemic when people’s emotional
well-being is at risk from isolation and loneliness because of
restrictions put in place to minimize risk. The CDC is actively
calling for programs and practices that fit communities where
racial and minority groups live, learn, work, play, and worship.
“COVER or COVID” is hoping to answer that call with its
The initiative has started with distributing some masks. Leaders
are in the process of raising funds to sponsor a broader mask
distribution within the Northeast Ohio Hispanic community. Their
focus will be on agencies such as the Spanish American
Committee, the Hispanic senior center, churches, and
organizations that serve Hispanic individuals and
families—anywhere there is built-in trust to gain acceptance.
To that end, the campaign is meeting with Cleveland’s three main
professional sports teams—the Indians, Browns, and
Cavaliers—hoping to build a public awareness campaign.
Well-known Latino sports figures, from a bilingual announcer to
athletes, would be asked to record public service announcements
and make appearances. Masks bearing the logos of all three
sports teams also are in the discussion stages. Cleveland
Cliffs, a family foundation, and other donors are providing
early funding for the effort.
Each mask right now bears the “COVER or COVID” logo and
comes with a bilingual brochure explaining the importance of
wearing the mask, social distancing, and frequent handwashing as
Dr. Schwartzman and professional colleagues at the Baylor
University Medical Center hope to expand the awareness
campaign nationwide, focusing on five major U.S. cities that
contain 60 percent of the stateside Hispanic population—New
York, L.A., Miami, Chicago, and Houston.
“We want people to come to us, work together and feel useful, be
part of a solidarity movement,” said Dr. Schwartzman. “We are
the ones who must build the part of a world we want to live in.
We don’t need to wait for others to do it for us.”
People can find more information at the website
or via social media on the group’s Instagram account @cover_or_covid.