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Health officials, archdiocese team up to reach Hispanic communities hard-hit by COVID

Working with Catholic Charities of Baltimore and Auxiliary Bishop Bruce Lewandowski, C.Ss.R., the Maryland Department of Health announced Oct. 16 the creation of a mobile education unit and a health hotline to reach Hispanic communities that have been especially hard-hit by the coronavirus epidemic.

The campaign starts Oct. 18 as a truck outfitted with a loudspeaker will begin traveling through Hispanic neighborhoods in the 21224 ZIP code, which includes Highlandtown’s Sacred Heart of Jesus/Sagrado Corazón de Jesús Parish.

“For weeks we’ve utilized social media and radio news programs. We’ve even gone door to door. Some of us who’ve been to countries in Latin America remembered the vans and buses that go through neighborhoods with loudspeakers making public service announcements.” Bishop Lewandowski said. 

“We have a positivity rate that just won’t drop. We need to reach as many people as possible in the community. This is another way to do it,” he said.

As of Oct. 16, more than 2,000 cases were reported in the 21224 ZIP code. The East Baltimore area has the highest concentration of cases in the Baltimore area. Only a few ZIP codes in the Washington suburbs have reported more cases statewide.

The truck will broadcast health information in both English and Spanish emphasizing messages such as handwashing, social distancing, the importance of isolating when sick and testing. Volunteers will also distribute face masks and informational fliers. The tour will continue until Oct. 24 and run between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day.

Catholic Charities of Baltimore’s Esperanza Center will also operate a health hotline at 667-600-2314 to answer questions and connect callers to resources.

Bishop Lewandowski, who is also the pastor of Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, has been a staunch advocate of more public health support for Baltimore’s Hispanic communities.

Early in the pandemic, Bishop Lewandowski partnered with Baltimore City Health Department and Johns Hopkins Hospital to operate a free testing site on the campus of Sagrado Corazón de Jesús. Each week, lines often stretch around the parish campus on Conkling Street for testing. Bishop Lewandowski has said several people have collapsed and needed medical attention while waiting to get a test.

Bishop Lewandowski, Archbishop William Lori’s Episcopal Vicar for Hispanic Catholics, has said the Hispanic community faces unique challenges in fighting the spread of COVID-19. Many Hispanic families live in tight quarters in multigenerational households, making isolating the sick more difficult. Also, many Hispanic residents work in the service industry as cooks, delivery drivers, healthcare workers and grocery store employees. Many do not have the option to work from home.

“These Marylanders are struggling not only with access to testing and health care but also with the loss of wages, locating safe housing for isolating and food security issues,” Maryland Department of Health Secretary Robert R. Neall said in a statement.

The Esperanza Center health hotline will help connect Hispanic residents affected by COVID-19 with much-needed resources. Many aren’t aware these resources are available, Bishop Lewandowski said.

Spanish-speaking operators will be available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They can schedule testing and assist eligible community members with referrals to follow-up care, food and cash assistance, eviction-prevention support and access to isolation housing. 

Email Tim Swift at tswift@CatholicReview.org

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