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‘COVER or COVID’: Hispanic Roundtable, others launch COVID-19 awareness campaign

By La Prensa Staff


CLEVELAND: As the first trucks loaded with coronavirus vaccine roll out of a Pfizer plant in Michigan, health and medical officials in the Cleveland metro area are attempting to reach out directly to the Latino community hoping to stem the tide of a high percentage of Latinos contracting COVID-19 at a rate much higher than the general population.


Research increasingly shows that racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 across the U.S. In particular, Latinos are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 and hospitalization rates among Hispanic or Latino people are about 4.7 times the rate of whites.


Dr. Raúl Schwartzman

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 fatal outcomes.


The effort is the brainchild of Dr. Raúl Schwartzman, 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 or COVID.”


“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.”


The 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.


Shared faith, 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 grassroots-level campaign.

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 preventive measures.


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 www.coverorcovid.org or via social media on the group’s Instagram account @cover_or_covid.




Copyright © 1989 to 2020 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 12/15/20 15:24:04 -0800.




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