(CNN) — While knocking on doors in New Jersey talking about covid-19, Nayeli Salazar de Noguera couldn’t forget how the virus nearly killed her grandmother last year. He knew firsthand the toll the virus took among Latinos before the omicron variant reached the state.
“She only had a 5% chance of surviving her second intubation. We didn’t sleep for months,” said Salazar de Noguera, a 35-year-old woman who runs a New Jersey Department of Health program that provides information on vaccination against the covid-19 among underserved communities.
Since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, the virus has hit the Latino community in New Jersey, disproportionately killing men under the age of 50 and amplifying existing financial challenges. Now that state health officials report the most positive COVID-19 cases in nearly a year, activists and some Latinos are on high alert as the latest variant of COVID-19 is now the most dominant in the country less than three weeks after the first case was reported in the US.
“There are families who fear a new confinement, they fear that their children will have to stay home again and not go to school, they fear what would happen if they or their spouses get sick,” said Carmen Salavarrieta, community activist in Plainfield who has been helping Latino families in need during the pandemic. Lately he has been advising them to take the spread of covid-19 variants seriously.
Covid-19 cases in the state have risen rapidly, and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli told reporters Monday that the increase in cases is “very likely” due to the delta and omicron variants. On Wednesday, the state Department of Health reported 9,711 new positive PCR tests for covid-19, a 42% increase over the previous day’s figures. The sharp increase surpasses the previous one-day record of 6,922 cases set on January 13.
Almost 40% of Covid-19 victims between the ages of 18 and 49 are Latino men
The pandemic has left a significant number of children and families in New Jersey in mourning at the loss of family members.
More than 4,900 Latinos or Hispanics in the state have died from complications related to Covid-19 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 who have died from COVID-19 in the state. That’s roughly 37% of the confirmed COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey in the same age range.
When New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy addressed the growing cases of COVID-19 at a press conference earlier this week, he spoke about a 57-year-old restaurant owner in Passaic and a 72-year-old chef from Peru who he worked as a newspaper carrier in Englewood. Both Latino men died last year from complications related to Covid-19.
In Plainfield, Salavarrieta and a group of volunteers with his nonprofit Angeles por la Acción often provide help to families who lost their parents, uncles, and grandparents, many of whom were the main breadwinners in their lives. homes.
Salvarrieta said these families have been forced to cry as they struggle to make ends meet. Many women suddenly became widows and are now the sole financial support for their families.
Last year, several families had to leave their houses or apartments because they could not pay the rent. Instead, mothers and several children are renting individual rooms in apartments or houses, Salavarrieta said.
“The (Latino) community has been vulnerable for a long time and COVID-19 exacerbated many of its needs,” Salavarrieta said.
Why some still hesitate to get vaccinated
Salazar de Noguera says he couldn’t sleep for months as he anxiously waited to find out if his grandmother Belem Rodriguez would come home. Last year, the 77-year-old woman was hospitalized for several months after falling ill with COVID-19 and was put on a ventilator multiple times.
“My heart, liver, and lungs were severely damaged. My body was lifeless,” Rodriguez recalls.
But the family did not lose hope and Rodriguez’s body slowly began to heal and he eventually regained consciousness.
“That day, I noticed for the first time that there was a woman (in the room), maybe a nurse. I didn’t know what was happening but she said ‘Mommy, Mommy’ … that woman was my daughter and I didn’t recognize her from immediately, “Rodriguez tells CNN.
When Rodriguez was transferred to a rehab center, she was unable to move most of her body, speak, or eat. He was also unable to see most of his family members due to covid-19 restrictions.
Rodriguez says she struggled with her own body and pain because she wanted to go home and be reunited with her family. She was able to return home and hug them again in March, nearly a year after she was first hospitalized.
“The love of my children, my grandchildren helped me to have strength. I couldn’t give up,” he said.
Rodriguez’s relentlessness inspired Salazar de Noguera to lead hundreds of volunteers who have spent months talking door-to-door with people about the COVID-19 vaccine and conducting tests in laundries, warehouses, restaurants, hardware stores, bus stations. and churches.
As volunteers spoke to Latinos in Hudson, Essex, Bergen, Union and Middle Essex counties, where Salazar de Noguera says roughly 65% of Latinos in the state reside, they often faced widespread reluctance about vaccines. .
“At the beginning of this program we faced structural barriers. People were unable to get to vaccines due to lack of transportation or conflicting work schedules. Now we are delving into those deeply ingrained and cultural beliefs that often come from their countries of origin, the lack of trust in the government and the lack of use of health services, said Salazar de Noguera.
“It doesn’t matter what generation you are from. You could even be a third generation (Latino) born in the United States and those beliefs reach the younger generations,” he added.
The data from the New Jersey Department of Health show that around 6.2 million residents are fully vaccinated. Of the fully vaccinated population in the state, 17% are Latino. However, Latinos only represent 9% of people who have received a third dose of the vaccine or booster, despite constituting 21% of the state’s population.
Latinos and Blacks living in New Jersey counties severely affected by the pandemic remain reluctant to covid-19 vaccines even after their communities suffered the brunt of the consequences of the pandemic, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
Researchers speaking with 111 participants in Essex, Middlesex, Passaic and Union counties found that to help eliminate vaccine skepticism among Latinos and Blacks, officials must address the remaining unknowns about the new vaccines.
“Instead of 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,” the study authors wrote.
This is what Salazar de Noguera says his team has been focusing on. Instead of arguing or debating with people who have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, they are listening and trying to find ways to build trust, he says.
But his team still has a long way to go, he says.
“I think the fear of the government and the fear of our pharmaceutical companies is unfortunately still much worse than death in some cases,” he said.
CNN’s Priya Krishnakumar contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism