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Outreach Teams Help Miami's Communities Of Color Find COVID-19 Testing

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So this pandemic continues to disproportionately impact communities of color. In South Florida, a nonprofit is helping Latino and Black residents get access to COVID testing. They're also trying to build trust in the vaccine. From member station WLRN, Veronica Zaragovia reports.

VERONICA ZARAGOVIA, BYLINE: A group called Healthy Little Havana received an assignment this summer, convince residents of this neighborhood in Miami to get a COVID-19 test. The nonprofit has lots of outreach experience. It helped with the census counting. And because of the pandemic, it did that by phone. But this new challenge needs a face-to-face approach.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAND KNOCKING)

ZARAGOVIA: At this apartment complex, three workers are knocking on every door. It's late in the afternoon. And most people aren't home. Many have jobs in the service industry and also retail and construction. Elvis Mendes with Healthy Little Havana says some of them can't afford to stay home when they're sick.

ELVIS MENDES: People usually rather go to work than actually treat themself because they have to pay rent. They have to pay school expenses, food.

ZARAGOVIA: This part of Miami is home to many Cuban exiles and immigrants from all over Latin America. Some people don't have insurance. Others are undocumented. So Mendes and his team tell residents here about Ready Responders, paramedics who give free COVID-19 tests at home. One's immigration status doesn't matter.

MENDES: Our mission is for all these people to get tested regardless if they have a symptom or not, so we can diminish the level of people getting COVID-19.

ZARAGOVIA: One of the challenges of controlling the spread of COVID-19 is people who are infected don't always show symptoms.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY CRYING)

ZARAGOVIA: When the team knocked on Lisette Mejia's door, she had a baby in her arms.

LISETTE MEJIA: (Speaking Spanish).

ZARAGOVIA: She says not everybody has easy access to the Internet to make an appointment for a test. They tell her about testing that weekend at a nearby school and give her cotton masks and say bye.

(CROSSTALK)

ZARAGOVIA: Another neighbor, Gloria Carvajal, has anxiety about the deep nasal swab used in some tests.

GLORIA CARVAJAL: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIA ELENA GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

ZARAGOVIA: Outreach worker Maria Elena Gonzalez tells her it's really not bad. She's gotten lots of tests. The Health Foundation of South Florida has donated $1.5 million for this effort. Another part of the outreach happens here in Liberty City, a historically Black neighborhood.

RICHARD DUNN II: Thousands upon thousands have died. So, Lord, we're saying today that we're not going to let their deaths be in vain.

ZARAGOVIA: Pastor Richard Dunn spoke at a memorial prayer service to honor Black residents who have died from COVID. Hundreds of white, plastic tombstones filled a field behind him at a park. He's part of a new effort to build trust in the COVID-19 vaccines by holding online meetings with Black churches to hear directly from Black medical experts. The focus - vaccines are vital.

DUNN: Because of the fact that it's taken over 300,000 lives in the United States of America. And I believe to do nothing would be more of a tragedy than to at least try to do something to prevent it and to stop the spreading of the coronavirus.

ZARAGOVIA: Churches will play a big role. And that's why Dunn is so committed to doing his part. He knows it's a terrible disease. He caught it this past summer.

For NPR News, I'm Veronica Zaragovia in Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUAN RIOS' "I WISH (INSTRUMENTAL VERSION)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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