COVID-19 task force focuses on Latinx and Indigenous Migrants
With more than 60 participating organizations and 150 individual participants, the Latinx and Indigenous Migrant COVID-19 Response Task Force has been working since March to identify and address the health concerns of marginalized communities.
The task force is in direct dialogue with the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and other community-based organizations, health service providers and policy partners to help share resources and problem solve.
Regions of northern Santa Barbara County, particularly farming communities, have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
The Public Health Department reported the 68th death of a COVID-19 positive individual on Wednesday. The Mission Canyon resident was over 70 years of age, associated with a congregate living facility and had underlying medical conditions.
A total of 77 new COVID-19 cases were announced Thursday, including 35 in Santa Maria. Six new cases were announced in the city of Santa Barbara, three in Orcutt, three in Goleta and two in the communities of Montecito, Summerland and city of Carpinteria.
Some 78 Santa Maria residents are considered “still infectious,” most in the county. Santa Barbara has 40 active cases, Lompoc has 24 and Isla Vista has 17.
Dr. Melissa Smith, a family medicine physician and the director of health equity of initiatives at UCSB, helped create the task force in partnership with Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, director of the county Public Health Department. Dr. Smith said there are a few reasons why farming communities have been hit hardest.
“Many members of the community are part of the essential work force, in particular, people who are doing farm work or in packing plants or in other service industries,” she told the News-Press. “And many people live in multi-family housing. So those working and living conditions make people more vulnerable.”
In addition, as director of health equity initiatives, Dr. Smith said indigenous migrants and undocumented residents don’t have equal access to health care.
“Upstream social inequities make people more likely to have underlying conditions,” she said. “Inequities of race, class and immigration status all impact people’s access to health care and create underlying stressors that increase people’s risk of having chronic diseases. It’s those root causes — structural social inequities — that are also a significant factor.”
Using the same social justice principles of a class she co-teaches called community-based participatory research, Dr. Smith and her partners started meeting every week, and now meet every two weeks to address how COVID-19 is affecting these community members.
The task force developed public health messaging in Spanish and multiple indigenous languages, both for radio public service announcements and videos for social media, to increase educational outreach. It also formed two working groups — one focused on mental health and the other on farm workers’ health — to create educational resources and safety plans in case an individual tests positive for COVID-19 and needs assistance.
All meetings include Spanish interpretation.
In addition, the task force provides these individuals with basic protective resources.
“I think the most important thing is that we are connecting directly to community members to identify their lived experiences and their concerns,” Dr. Smith said. “The first week the force was set up, we addressed concerns about people not being able to access care if they were uninsured. So the health department made a policy change so that anyone who has COVID-related symptoms would have no barriers to accessing care throughout the county.”
Dr. Smith served as the interim coordinator of the task force due to the sense of urgency, but she said the task force is now seeking someone from the Latinx and Indigenous community for the permanent position.
Having worked part-time at the health department clinic in Santa Maria, Dr. Smith said she has experience caring for indigenous farm workers in North County.
“I see this task force as a real affirmation of an equity-oriented approach where people are working together to ensure everyone has the resources to keep them and their families safe and healthy, both physically and emotionally,” she said. “I think the task force has been a tremendous collaborative process where we’ve really centered the voices and leadership of historically marginalized communities, so that equity focus is very powerful to be able to contribute to.”
Although the task force started with the focus on concerns of Latinx and Indigenous migrant communities, it is now expanding to work with other partners to include black, Pan Asian, LGBTQ and other communities.
In addition to the task force, other organizations are finding ways to assist in personal protection from COVID-19. The Museum of Contemporary Art, upstairs at Paseo Nuevo, is now offering limited-production, artist-designed face masks.
The masks are available online at mcasantabarbara.org for $28 each.