KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The coronavirus pandemic has affected every community in East Tennessee with loved ones lost, job loss, health rules and restrictions – and recently the development of vaccines. Leaders in the local Hispanic and Latino community as well as with the health department say they’re continuing to coordinate education and vaccination efforts with strategic planning.
Those leaders and health officials said their strategies to coordinate, educate and vaccinate Hispanics and Latinos began months ago and they are now seeing encouraging data. Currently, Knox County Hispanic and Latino residents have a vaccination rate of around 62% and growing.
“Amid the pandemic, we realized that the data was showing that the Hispanic community among other minorities were being hit hard. We started looking very closely, we realized that something was happening, the numbers were growing exponentially and we needed to understand what happened,” Liliana Burbano, public health planner with the Knox County Health Department said. “So we convened a group of leaders in the community and start discussing about what might be the possible answer to that question, and we received really good feedback.”
Burbano also says the coordination of the Knox County Health Department and groups that serve and empower the East Tennessee Hispanic and Latino community was swift. Early reports amid the pandemic indicated Hispanic and Latinos were disproportionately affected by the health crisis. A local nonprofit, Centro Hispano de East Tennessee, was one of the groups that collaborated with the health department to educate la comunidad about the pandemic and later, the vaccine.
Cristina Cárceres, who is the community resources director at Centro Hispano, says the group rolled out weekly videos, food distribution, help for virtual school, information in Spanish and Indigenous languages – because leaders knew they held and still maintain the community’s trust.
“It was also fighting misinformation in every way that we could by just sharing what we know and what we can because it’s also the responsibility of Centro Hispano to continue to be informing,” Cárceres said.
The health department also created Spanish-language social media pages dedicated to information about the pandemic.
“To the point that we identified that information in their own language was a huge gap. We based on those focus groups, we understood that people were still getting information about their vaccine, the pandemic from news outlets from their countries of origin, which really didn’t allow them to understand what was happening, locally,” Burbano said. “So we identified that providing information in their own language about their own community was a huge need. Therefore, we decided to create this Facebook page that was created just with the purpose of addressing the pandemic information about covid, and particularly misinformation that was circulating in the community. “
Officials say educating, coordinating and later vaccinating people in the greater Knox community has been a priority. Hispanics and Latinos in East Tennessee, and across the U.S., have some of the highest rate of workers contributing to essential businesses and therefore more likely to be affected by the pandemic. Many work in the agriculture, construction, food, and hospitality industries – helping to feed and build America and take care of families.
“We’re very family-oriented, so it’s all about also having that chance to reconnect with our family members; like – talk to our tías, go play with our nieces of our nephews, just having that opportunity – just seeing that vaccine as a way to be able to do that,” Cárceres said.
While the U.S. Joint Economic Committee reports Hispanics are far more likely to be infected as well as economically affected by the COVID-19, the report also states the ethnic groups are resilient and capable of making significant contributions to the economy – nationally and locally. Health officials say efforts to vaccinate may continue in order to aid the community’s continued recovery.