Roanoke leaders hold coronavirus forum for hard-hit communities


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — The City of Roanoke is educating parts of the community most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

City officials say Roanoke has seen a spike in cases, specifically in the Hispanic and African American communities. Therefore, on Wednesday, Aug. 5, they hosted a forum to discuss ways to fight against the spread of the virus.

Community leaders from the African American and Latin-X communities were invited in hopes of being able to take back helpful information to their communities to try to mitigate the spread.

Health officials for the Roanoke area say the Latin population has seen a spike in cases.

“We have a much larger percentage of Hispanic cases than we do have Hispanics in our city. It was 30-percent of our cases were Hispanic and that’s come down in the last few weeks and now it’s hovering right around 22,” said Dr. Molly O’Dell.

City Council Member Trish White-Boyd says a large number of people testing positive in the Hispanic and African American communities is concerning.

“And we don’t know why, and we don’t understand why. But we’re here today to try to disseminate some information that we think we be helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19,” said White-Boyd.

Officials gave tips and dispelled rumors both in English and Spanish.

“It’s part of the culture to gather with family and friends and loved ones, and it’s really hard to not do that during this time,” said Samara Lott, Population Health Planning and Improvement Coordinator for Roanoke City and Alleghany Health District. “So we’re really seeing cases related to that, and figuring out ways to still stay connected and in touch with those we care about.”

Lott says she wants to dispel the rumor that only the sick wear masks. She says you should wear a mask anytime you’re in public and can’t social distance. In addition, she says they want to help translate the paperwork people get after being tested to know when it’s safe to go back to work, school, etc.

On Wednesday, officials also took questions and heard concerns from the crowd at the forum.

One concern that came up was fears of the undocumented population, but health officials say they want to eliminate that fear because testing is confidential.

“It’s refreshing to know that the city is going to put out a message like that to the Hispanic community so that the Hispanic community has that peace of mind,” said business owner, Kat Pascal.

Her friend and another leader in the community, Liz Quintana, agreed.

“It gives me hope to see that they see that it’s a problem and that they really want to help erase that stigma,” said Quintana.

Many people who were at the forum expressed a willingness to help where they could, for example by spreading knowledge about resources by word of mouth and serving as translators.

City leaders took down contact information, and there are talks about starting some sort of task force or committee to get information out to the communities that they are not currently being reached, including the Spanish speaking population.

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