According to government health data, as of April 9, Latino patients account for 87,400 cases in the region’s five largest jurisdictions — Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Prince William counties and D.C. In comparison, official figures reveal a total of 78,132 cases in the African American community, 59,261 cases in the White population and 16,251 cases among Asian Americans. Latinos constitute approximately 18 percent of the population throughout the national capital area, but 38.6 percent of the coronavirus cases in Montgomery, 36.8 percent in Fairfax, 30.7 percent in Prince George’s, 41.9 percent in Prince William and 20.6 percent in D.C.
In light of these striking numbers, we are extremely concerned that a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation released on April 7 found that, so far, the Latino community has received only 5 percent of vaccinations in Maryland, 8 percent in Virginia and 8 percent in D.C.
Clearly, we must work harder at this pivotal moment to protect the communities of color that are not only bearing the pandemic’s brunt but who also are significantly overrepresented in the “essential workforce” that greatly contributes to the daily life of every person living in the national capital region. Sadly, we are failing tremendously in this part of the pandemic response. Not enough time, resources or political will is being spent to ensure the safety and economic security of all our neighbors — and this will profoundly impact on our ability to exit this crisis more quickly.
As a community-based organization working on the pandemic’s front lines, Edu-Futuro can attest to the harsh reality of thousands of immigrant households across Northern Virginia. Since the coronavirus outbreak began, we have provided case management services to more than 1,000 families in Northern Virginia and disbursed more than a half million dollars in direct financial aid for rent, food, utilities and other basic necessities. Our work has traditionally focused on education services for immigrant students and their parents, so we know that local authorities vastly underestimated the impact of the digital divide in these households. We also know that, even when children return to in-person schooling, the divide is now laid bare and growing daily. Expansion of low-cost Internet services is critical to ensure all families have equal opportunities to connect with information on vaccine distribution and to online classrooms in the short run — and to help bridge educational and public service gaps among different communities in the long term.
We must think more deeply in our pandemic response about who is not being served well and pivot quickly to address inequalities. This is infinitely achievable. Last year, for example, the Montgomery County Council unanimously approved a $5.6 million special appropriation to establish Por Nuestra Salud y Bienestar (For Our Health and Wellbeing), an innovative program aimed at reducing the impact of the coronavirus among Latino residents in Montgomery. The project provides robust funding for bilingual case management services, coronavirus testing, contact tracing, a Spanish-language hotline and public awareness campaign and a team of promotoras de salud (health promoters) who are providing vital information to families living in areas with high concentrations of vulnerable residents. We urge authorities across the region to review the details of the Por Nuestra Salud y Bienestar initiative and to take immediate action to adopt similar programs.
The coronavirus crisis has exposed large gaps in our local safety net along with serious funding inequities faced by grass-roots organizations working to provide emergency assistance to communities of color.
Public authorities in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. have a moral responsibility to do everything in their power to guarantee equity in the pandemic response — including distributing lifesaving vaccinations to the racial and ethnic groups with the highest number of confirmed cases. This is also smart public health management to ensure our essential workers arrive to their jobs healthy, so we get this pandemic in check. Similarly, addressing digital connectivity gaps as quickly as possible will make certain that youths do not fall behind while ensuring that adults can access the information they need to beat this pandemic — and other public emergencies in the future.