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Cleveland’s Hispanic leaders clearing language and cultural barriers for vaccine rollout

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Posted at 9:17 AM, Jan 26, 2021

CLEVELAND — While more Americans are getting the COVID vaccine every day, some leaders in Cleveland’s Hispanic community are worried the messaging might not reach their members.

The Centers for Disease Control says Hispanic communities are more likely to be hospitalized and die from COVID compared to all other groups in the United States.

“Certain communities have been hit harder than others, including the Hispanic community for a variety of different reasons,” said Manola Acosta, a Cover or COVID Ambassador in Cleveland.

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The CDC website table shows how much more likely minority groups are to be impacted by COVID-19 compared to white Americans.

That’s why Acosta answers the call to become a Cover or COVID ambassador in Cleveland’s Hispanic community. She’s helped translate information from English to Spanish as part of Cover or COVID’s effort to get information to Spanish-speaking residents.

“Information, there’s a lot,” said Dr. Raul Schartzman, an Executive Board member of Cover or COVID. “The way it’s communicated is a problem.”

That’s why he helped create the group, which encouraged people to wear masks and keep socially-distanced at the start of the pandemic. Now, the effort is also convincing Hispanic residents to get vaccinated and he says big hospital systems might not be the best messenger.

“People are tired of being told, ‘You have to do this. We know how it is. You follow all the instructions,” said Schwartzman. “People say, ‘I don’t need to.”

That’s where Ambassadors like Acosta come in, as family members and neighbors who have a trust in their community that even the big institutions might not have.

“I’m just really here to try to help people, educate them, and answer any questions that I’m able to for them,” said Acosta.

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"We really, in our hearts, just want a day when we don't have to worry about this," said Acosta.

The Hispanic Roundtable is also using its network to connect community organizations and state and local leaders.

“The message has to be presented not only bi-lingually but bi-culturally,” said Hispanic Roundtable Chairman Jose Feliciano.

That’s why he’d love to see vaccines delivered in churches in Cleveland’s Hispanic community since they are already gathering spots that people trust.

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Feliciano says he'd like to see vaccines delivered in churches so that the community is comfortable coming to get vaccinated.

The only barrier is logistics.

“We have to raise the comfort level so those that administer it that those venue are acceptable from a medical perspective,” said Feliciano.

It would also help with one of the big reasons Schwartzman says Hispanic people have stayed away from medical care in the past: immigration status.

Feliciano says most of Cleveland’s Hispanic population is Puerto Rican, so they are already American citizens.

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Since some people cannot get the COVID vaccine because of medical conditions, pregnancy, or other factors, Dr. Schwartzman says it's that much more important for the people around them to be vaccinated.

“It’s less of a challenge in this part of the county but a challenge nonetheless and one that we have to be sensitive to,” said Feliciano. “But it’s not as big a problem as [it is in] different parts of the country.”

The Cuyahoga County Board of Health Commissioner Terry Allen urged providers to check IDs for name and date of birth only and not for immigration status. Experts say that’s the right way to approach vaccinations because the entire community benefits when more people are vaccinated.

Global Cleveland has also pulled information together in a variety of languages to help more people find resources to stay safe from COVID-19.

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