Omicron sounds the alarm in New Jersey after Covid-19 takes a heavy toll on Latin American families

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“She had only a 5% chance of surviving her second intubation. We haven’t slept for months,” said Salazar de Noguera, a 35-year-old man who runs an outreach program at the Ministry of Health. of New Jersey which provides Covid-19 immunization information to underserved communities.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the virus has struck the Latino community in New Jersey, disproportionately killing men under the age of 50 and amplifying existing financial challenges. Now that state health officials are reporting the highest number of positive Covid-19 cases in nearly a year, advocates and some Latinos are on high alert because the latest variant of Covid-19 is now the most dominant strain in the country less than three weeks after the first case was reported in the United States.

“There are families who are afraid of a new lockdown, they are afraid that their children will need to stay home again after school, they are afraid of what would happen if they or their spouse fell ill. “said Carmen Salavarrieta, community activist in Plainfield. who helped needy Latin American families during the pandemic and recently advised them to take the spread of Covid-19 variants seriously.

Cases of Covid-19 in the state have increased rapidly, with Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli telling reporters on Monday that the rise in cases is “very likely” due to the Delta and Omicron variants. The state health ministry reported 9,711 new positive PCR tests for Covid-19 on Wednesday, a 42% increase from the previous day’s figures. The sharp peak surpasses the previous one-day record of 6,922 cases set on January 13.

Almost 40% of Covid-19 victims aged 18-49 are Latino men

The pandemic has left a significant number of children in New Jersey mourning their fathers and large families without their patriarchs.

More than 4,900 Latinos or Hispanics have died of complications from Covid-19 in the state since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the health department. At least 455 Latino or Hispanic men between the ages of 18 and 49 have died from Covid-19 in the state. This represents about 37% of confirmed Covid-19 deaths in New Jersey in the same age group.

When New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy addressed the increase in Covid-19 cases at a press conference earlier this week, he spoke about a 57-year-old Latino restaurant owner in Passaic and ‘a 72-year-old Peruvian chef who worked as a newspaper porter in Englewood. Both men died of complications from Covid-19 last year.

In Plainfield, Salavarrieta and a group of volunteers with his nonprofit Angels for Action often provide support to families who have lost fathers, uncles and grandfathers, many of whom were the primary breadwinners.

Salvarrieta said these families were forced to cry while struggling to make ends meet. Many women have suddenly become widows and are now scrambling to be the sole financial support of their families.

Over the past year, a number of families have had to leave their homes or apartments because they cannot afford rent. Instead, mothers and several children rent individual rooms in apartments or houses, said Salavarrieta.

“The (Latino) community has long been vulnerable and Covid-19 has exacerbated many of their needs,” Salavarrieta said.

Why some people still hesitate to be vaccinated

Salazar de Noguera says she hasn’t been able to sleep for months as she anxiously awaited to know if her grandmother Belem Rodriguez will come home. Last year, the 77-year-old man was hospitalized for several months after falling ill with Covid-19, and put on a ventilator several times.

“My heart, liver and lungs were badly damaged. My body had no life,” Rodriguez recalls.

But the family did not give up hope and Rodriguez’s body slowly began to heal and she eventually regained consciousness.

“That day I first noticed that there was a woman (in the room), maybe a nurse. I didn’t know what was going on but she said ‘mami, mami’ ( mum, mum) … this woman was my daughter and I didn’t recognize her right away, “Rodriguez told CNN.

When Rodriguez was transferred to a rehabilitation center, she could not move most of her body, speak or eat. She also couldn’t see most of her family due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Rodriguez says she fought with her own body and through pain because she wanted to return home and be reunited with her family. She was able to return home and kiss them again in March – almost a year after her first hospitalization.

“The love for my children, for my grandchildren helped me gain strength. I couldn’t give up,” she said.

Rodriguez’s relentlessness inspired Salazar de Noguera to lead hundreds of volunteers who spent months talking door-to-door to people about the Covid-19 vaccine and performing tests on laundry rugs, bodegas, restaurants, hardware stores, bus stations and churches.

Nayeli Salazar de Noguera, left, traveled around New Jersey as the head of the COVID Community Corps, an outreach program with the New Jersey Department of Health to provide information about the Covid-19 vaccine to underserved communities.

As the volunteers spoke to Latinos in Hudson, Essex, Bergen, Union, and Middle Essex counties, where Salazar de Noguera says about 65% of Latinos in the state reside, they often face widespread reluctance to regarding vaccines.

“At the start of this program, we faced structural obstacles. People could not get vaccinated due to lack of transportation or conflicting work schedules. Now we are getting into those deeply held cultural beliefs that often come from home countries, lack of trust in government and lack of use of health services, ”said Salazar de Noguera.

“It doesn’t matter what generation you are. You might even be born in the United States (Latino) third generation and those beliefs are reaching the younger generations,” she added.

Data from New Jersey Department of Health shows that around 6.2 million people are fully immunized. Of the fully vaccinated population in the state, 17% are Latinos. However, Latinos make up just 9% of people who received a third dose of the vaccine or booster, compared to 21% of the state’s population.

Researchers who spoke to 111 participants in Essex, Middlesex, Passaic and Union counties found that to help eliminate vaccine skepticism among Latinos and blacks, officials need to tackle the remaining unknowns regarding new vaccines.

“Rather than investing in marketing campaigns to sell vaccines to reluctant consumers, transparent information, including what is still unknown, is needed so that members of these communities can make informed decisions,” wrote the authors of the study.

This is what Salazar de Noguera says his team have focused on. Instead of arguing or arguing with people who have doubts about the Covid-19 vaccine, they listen and try to find ways to build trust, she says.

But her team still has a long way to go, she said.

“I think the fear of the government and the fear of our pharmaceutical companies are unfortunately even worse than death in some cases,” she said.

CNN’s Priya Krishnakumar contributed to this report.


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