It started on a Tuesday in mid-November. My 3-year-old daughter’s fever led to a COVID-19 diagnosis at the doctor’s office on Wednesday — the same day my husband and I tested positive, despite being fully vaccinated.
Under CDC guidelines in place at the time, we were required to quarantine for 10 days. The quarantine began with hope: Our 11-year-old son had not contracted COVID and there was some food in the fridge.
I received a call on Friday — day 3 of quarantine — from Garfield County Public Health to inform me of my daughter’s diagnosis. Only, they did not know of the other positive cases in our household.
Working through the miscommunication, I informed the representative I, too, had tested positive for COVID and asked to arrange food delivery services.
Here’s where our experience took a wrong turn: The representative forgot to attach contact information in the email, which left us waiting until Monday — day 6 — for a response.
Six days in, we were provided contact information for the Aspen Community Foundation’s Bridging Resources program. After calling the contact number, we needed to wait for another 24 hours — day 7 — to receive a callback, only to be directed to another program that offered food delivery.
Now a week into quarantine and running low on vegetables, fresh fruit, and nearly everything to cook for a family of four, I contacted a good friend at Safe and Abundant Nutrition Alliance for more information on locations.
This situation forced us to place an unimaginable burden and risk on my mother, who dropped off groceries between her 12-hour shifts. On day 9, we received a call from the Bridging Resources program. Given we had only 1 more day of quarantine, it rendered their services too little, too late.
In the recent weeks when I share my story, I watch faces twist in confusion, brows furrow in anger, “can this still be happening?”
I’m a bilingual U.S. Citizen and elected official with access to adequate transportation and to broadband internet, and a working cell phone. Despite this inherent privilege, my family’s difficulty accessing critical services after a COVID diagnosis seems to be par for the course for Latinos, not just in the valley, but throughout Colorado. And that’s the real problem.
Recent polling data confirms our reality. Forty percent of Latino adults living in the mountains and on the Western Slope reported they didn’t have enough food to eat during the pandemic. And nearly half of Latinos statewide had a family member or friend die from COVID.
I realize that quarantines are now recommended to be 5 days for the asymptomatic, but we need to hold our statewide and local officials accountable, and urge them to figure out how to reach Latino and other underserved communities.
Our local public health department’s lack of follow-through and unreasonable fulfillment timeline only exacerbated our situation when it made us depend on other organizations with no systems in place to help us. Being directed from organization to organization ultimately left my family empty-handed.
The system is so riddled with problems that it cannot adequately help the communities it vows to serve. There is no guarantee that will improve now that quarantine times are shorter — particularly given that each new variant seems to bring with it new challenges for residents and public health officials alike.
The progress made in Latino outreach and communication, including Spanish-speaking public health representatives, is only a start on the work that’s needed. As the daughter and granddaughter of Spanish-speaking immigrants, I grew up translating legal documents, attending medical appointments, and everything in between. I know I am not alone; hundreds of families in the valley do the same.
We deserve usable, practical resources for the non-English speaking, undocumented, elderly and disabled members of our community.
The pandemic has been our nation’s “new normal” for nearly two years, sparking community-led organizations to band together to help the most vulnerable populations. Earlier in the pandemic, Voces Unidas worked with the Food Bank of the Rockies to distribute hundreds of boxes to our community. Asociación de Jóvenes Unidos en Acción, a youth-led grassroots organization, stepped up by delivering those food boxes to families in quarantine. The Safe and Abundant Nutrition Alliance’s focus has shifted to continue to work in the Latino community by orchestrating food distribution.
These organizations make an impact by listening to the needs of the Latino community, understanding our pain points, and adjusting to provide necessities. Colorado’s local and statewide organizations need to do the same.
Thankfully, my family recovered from COVID. But Latino families have faced a different reality. CDC data confirms Latinos living in the United States are more likely to be diagnosed and hospitalized with COVID. And we are more than two times as likely to die from this virus.
If nothing else, my experience should be a wake-up call: The safety net is not working. Our families need support as they continue to confront the pandemic, and we must do better — and do more — to address those needs.
Jasmin Ramirez of Glenwood Springs is a member of the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education and is co-founder of Voces Unidas de las Montañas, a Latino-created, Latino-led advocacy organization.
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