Advocate frustrated as COVID-19 cases soar in the Hispanic community

Posted at 4:27 PM, Jun 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-04 21:09:06-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — An advocate feels government officials have failed the Hispanic community during the COVID-19 crisis, as they need more access to education and regulation among workplaces.

The state is reporting an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases among Tennessee's Hispanic population.

Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said many immigrants are scared to get tested due to deportation concerns.

“Even just the recent sharing with law enforcement, the addresses of COVID-19 patients, contributes to the chilling effect in immigrant communities,” Sherman-Nikolaus said.

According to Tennessee Department of Health data, over 5,700 people in the Hispanic population have COVID-19 which makes up 23% of the state’s positive cases as of June 4. Sherman-Nikolaus believes a big chunk of them are essential workers in construction, meat-packing, and the food industry.

“The biggest barrier that we see again is the threat of the virus in workplaces, and a lack of enforcement for businesses ensuring they’re following guidelines,” Sherman-Nikolaus said.

She said they also need a place to report issues while on the job like lack of personal protective equipment. According to a state health department spokesperson, they have a Minority Health Task Force that is working on these concerns.

“A lot of the Latinx community, especially undocumented folks in mixed families, have been completely left out of the COVID-19 relief care packages, both on the state and federal level so, a lot of families are really struggling right now unable to feed their families,” Sherman-Nikolaus said.

She hopes bringing some of these issues to light will bring on change, and help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“So we need a scaled up and proportionate response," she said.

The spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Health said the Minority Health Task Force and the Assistant Commissioner for Disparities Elimination had a meeting on Thursday. Their goal is to improve outreach and reduce barriers to testing and treatment among the Hispanic community. They said they're working with community organizations on their concerns.

We reached out to the governor's office and received the following response from Dr. Kimberly Lamar, Tennessee Department of Health assistant commissioner for health disparities elimination.

“We recognize that in Tennessee and across the U.S., COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting our minority communities, including our Hispanic and Latino populations. We continue working with community partners and stakeholders across the state to seek their input on how we can better meet the needs of communities of color and help prevent and mitigate further spread of COVID-19. We are also reaching out to Spanish-language media organizations and providing interviews with our Spanish-speaking clinicians and other staff members to provide information to these audiences.

As we discussed, we have created a Health Disparities Task Force with representatives from community-based non-profits, faith-based organizations, state and local government officials and academic partners across the state. Our Office of Minority Health and Disparities Elimination hosts weekly webinars with this group of stakeholders to better understand barriers to testing and access to health services and resources.

We have COVID-19 materials available in Spanish and other common indigenous dialects. Additionally, TDH offers services in Spanish and other languages on our information lines. We also offer translation services at all county health departments, and created a statewide public education and awareness campaign about COVID-19 that includes messages in Spanish.

In addition, the Unified Command Group is working collaboratively with stakeholders and several grassroots organizations to strategize on how to effectively expand testing access and improve contact tracing efforts in Hispanic communities.”