Coronavirus exploiting impoverished, vulnerable Sonoma County Latinos

Coronavirus exploiting impoverished, vulnerable Sonoma County Latinos

“I tell them it doesn’t matter if it came from here or there. The important thing is that we’re all OK and no one died, thank God,” he said.

Ruano has not returned to work since he caught the virus last month. His family receives a weekly box of food through a coronavirus nutrition program from Food for Thought, a Forestville nonprofit that provides food and other nutritional items to people living with serious illnesses like COVID-19 or HIV.

Ron Karp, executive director of the nonprofit, said the organization quickly launched the new food program to serve people exposed to the pathogen and so in quarantine or isolation, and their families. Karp said the program added another 100 people to the organization’s pre-pandemic roster of 850 clients.

Public health officials have referred 27 people and their family members for a total of about 100 residents to the nonprofit, Karp said. That averages four to five people per family needing food, he said, and “95% of our referrals so far have been Latino,” he said. The new program is funded through private donations and $30,000 in emergency money from the county. “We’re burning through that money,” Karp said.

Helping the lonely, ill

The ethnic disparities of the area’s COVID-19 outbreak and the need to bridge cultural and socioeconomic divides was the main reason Dr. Panna Lossy, a Santa Rosa family physician, created IsoCare. It’s an all-volunteer organization helping people who have the contagion, or are awaiting coronavirus test results, and have been asked to isolate at home.

Lossy said a significant number of low-income residents, many of them Latinos, have difficulty abiding by strict stay-at-home rules — that were in effect from March 18 until late May to suppress transmission of the virus in the county — because they don’t have the luxury of isolating or quarantining alone in a bedroom, or having the sole use of a bathroom.

IsoCare only takes referrals from local community health centers, she said, “so we don’t get a lot of people (living in houses) with five bedrooms. We don’t have a lot of really privileged people that get referred to us.” Of the 900 people that have been referred to IsoCare, about 390 are Spanish-speaking residents, according to results from the organization’s questionnaire.

Despite a state effort to provide $125 million in public health emergency aid for undocumented workers who have been devastated financially by the pandemic, local immigration and labor advocates say the need remains unprecedented.

Renee Saucedo, program director for ALMAS, which organizes domestic workers for the Graton Day Labor Center, said some of the women in her group have been forced to turn to agricultural work. The ag industry has experienced a number of infections among its workers. County public health data shows more than 20% of total confirmed cases of COVID-19 are Latinos who work in agriculture, which includes working in fields, collecting and processing foods.

Having no options but high-risk work

Anabel Garcia, a house cleaner who lives in Santa Rosa, has not contracted the virus, but she’s fearful that if someone in her house gets it everyone else will, too. Garcia, her husband, two teenage children, her 32-year-old brother and 60-year-old father-in-law live in a three-bedroom apartment off Bicentennial Way in Santa Rosa.

With no more housecleaning work, three weeks ago Garcia returned to vineyard work. She said she’s enduring nine hours a day out in the hot sun. Garcia does the work because she is undocumented, and said with no immigration “papers” she’s unable to draw unemployment and so must work to help pay her family’s bills and put food on the table.

“You’re afraid of contracting the virus, of your family getting the virus,” she said. “But you’re also afraid of losing your transportation, of not having enough to feed your children.”

Meanwhile, Israel, the vineyard worker who lives in Cloverdale and recovered from his mild case of COVID-19, said the hardest thing for him, aside from watching his father’s near-death struggle with the infectious disease, has been the ongoing isolation of the pandemic.

“The family that we do have can’t come visit because the borders are shut,” he said. “But even if they could, I’d be afraid of infecting them. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what help I could get.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or [email protected] On Twitter @pressreno.

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