Through a partnership with UMass Memorial Medical Center’s COVID-19 Equity Group, the Latino Education Institute (LEI) is helping to curb the spread of COVID-19 in some of Worcester’s most affected areas. Under the guidance of the UMass Memorial Ronald McDonald Care Mobile team, the all-student group of volunteers representing the LEI has been leading socially distant tabling and canvassing efforts throughout the community.
Worcester State students Claudia Oliveira De Paiva and Valerie Báez are supervising the team of seven volunteers, including incoming Worcester State students Ziray DeJesus and Marisabella Montoya, Quinsigamond Community College student Greisy Cepeda, and Worcester Public High School students Mario Harper and Samuel Araujo.
“The initiative of our street outreach project is to reach ‘hot spot’ areas in Worcester where COVID numbers are high,” says Báez, who is a psychology major. “Places like Main South, Belmont Hill, Lincoln Street, and Vernon and Union Hill neighborhoods are having more cases of COVID-19 than other spots in Worcester.”
In going into these “hot spot” areas of Worcester, the LEI is trying to address the disproportional impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Latino populations.
“Spanish and Portuguese speaking families are struggling to access needed resources about COVID-19 and its impact,” says De Paiva, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Education. “It is important to note that one in three Latinos lack health insurance and do not have access to healthcare on a regular basis. Some of the population is a complex mix of residents who have some family members who may be undocumented, and therefore are afraid of getting help from government entities. Our goal is to reach as many families as we can, especially the ones who have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The outreach effort includes the distribution of “self-care kits” to individuals and families who live or work in areas that have been hit harder by COVID-19. The kits, which are assembled by the volunteers, include washable cloth masks, hand sanitizer, information about COVID-19, and information about the United States Census. Education is a key part of the initiative, so UMass Memorial has made sure that volunteers are equipped with accurate answers to some of the most common questions and concerns residents have regarding the virus.
“We could clearly see that the population really needs the right information and resources about COVID-19,” says De Paiva. “With the help of UMass Memorial Nurse Practitioners Michelle Muller and Nardy Vega, the LEI outreach team has been trained to answer certain medical questions and educate communities.”
“The community has responded very well to our efforts in helping with this pandemic,” says Báez. “Lots of people are very willing to take a mask and to hear about the information that we are providing…With our diverse trilingual team of students, we are able to distribute these kits and successfully communicate well with residents.”
“I believe the LEI team, speaking three different languages, with different cultural knowledge, makes a huge difference for those who are struggling with COVID-19 to be able to feel comfortable and trust us.” adds De Paiva
As for the future of the COVID-19 outreach initiative? The LEI is planning to continue through the summer and fall, or as long as necessary.
“Our team does plan on continuing this outreach throughout the pandemic,” says Báez. “We would like to continue to target hot spot areas in our emerging communities who need the support. It is important that we do not fall behind in doing what is best to protect ourselves during this global pandemic.”