Editorial: Hispanic outreach program an important tool in the fight against COVID-19

One of the many unfortunate aspects of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been that it has hit the Hispanic community particularly hard. The North Georgia Health District has reported that Hispanics account for 56% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Whitfield County (4,002 total cases as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health). But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Whitfield County is 36.3% Hispanic.

"At the hospital (Hamilton Medical Center), the number of people admitted to the hospital, it (the percentage of Hispanics among COVID-19 patients) is much higher," said Dr. Rod Rodriguez, a Dalton surgeon and medical director of the DEO Clinic. "It's about 80% in the hospital."

That is why we were glad to see that the Dalton City Council voted last month to use $50,000 of the $1.7 million the city received from the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act to fund a COVID-19 outreach program to the city's Hispanic community that will be run by the DEO Clinic, which serves individuals in Whitfield and Murray counties who are uninsured and have limited financial resources. The program is expected to last about four months.

The program was developed by Dr. Pablo Perez, a Dalton physician and a volunteer at the DEO Clinic.

"So many people in our Hispanic community were working in industries that never stopped working, were not part of the (April) shutdown (of much of the local economy because of the pandemic)," Perez said. "They can't afford not to work. And they continue to work and have to go into work. The jobs they have can't be done from home, so there's more opportunity for them to be exposed to the disease."

Perez will oversee two to three part-time employees. The employees will go into the Hispanic community -- attending events and churches and other functions -- to provide information on how to reduce the spread of the disease by wearing masks and social distancing. The program will also offer free testing, and contact tracing when someone tests positive. DEO Clinic Executive Director Heather Donahue said the plan is for testing not just to take place at the clinic in the Mack Gaston Community Center but at different locations in the community and at different times.

"We want to make testing more accessible and convenient," she said.

We commend the DEO Clinic, which does so much good in our community, for its role in this endeavor, and Dr. Perez, for being willing to oversee this important program.

We also commend the City Council members for recognizing a serious problem in our community and dedicating funds to address it.

Information is power. We wish all of the program staff good fortune as they battle in the fight against the dreaded COVID-19.

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