Sacramento County is bolstering its contact tracing program by focusing its efforts on harder-to-reach populations to get them to COVID-19 resources to dispel misinformation.
Since the pandemic began, low-income communities of color — particularly the Latino and African American populations — have been hit hard by the virus. In an effort to curb this spread, the county created a partnership program with the Sierra Health Foundation and other organizers to get virus tracers and educators from those communities into the area impacted most.
“People didn’t have enough of the information that they needed to even understand why they needed to quarantine,” said Richard Dana, director of economic development at the Sierra Health Foundation. “The spread was really impacting our communities of color, and the reason for that is because smaller homes often, multi-generational families living together, and they’re essential workers, and what we were seeing is the spread was much greater in these communities.”
For the Hmong population in particular, this effort to have culturally-appropriate tracers has been helpful. Organizers say the community is small, and older and newly immigrated Hmong residents may not feel comfortable speaking English with non-Hmong people.
“The elders in our population, most of them don’t really speak English or don’t understand English,” said Mai Yang Thor, director of Hmong Youth and Parents United. “That’s why it’s very important that we have these Hmong contact tracers to come in and let them know like hey, we’re here for you and we’re here to help you and your family through this time.”
Yang Thor said the Hmong population has felt overlooked in some of the state, county and city’s outreach around COVID-19 in the earlier months. While some local community groups tried to provide translated videos about the virus to residents, there was still a disconnect because some are illiterate in both English and Hmong.
George Tong Yang is one of a handful of virus tracers for the Hmong community. He started calling Hmong community members in August who might have been exposed to COVID-19.
He does so by first hearing from the county if there’s been a positive case in his area. He then works with about five other Hmong tracers to try to keep community spread to a minimum by connecting exposed individuals to resources to help them quarantine.
Yang said it’s helpful for virus tracers to have knowledge of the Hmong culture and community to be able to ask culturally-appropriate questions.
“The virus has disrupted quite a bit of Hmong cultural ceremonies and events that’s normally done,” Yang said. “The Hmong community is a very collective society. When you have COVID-19 that prevents you from doing all of that, it prevents certain events from happening, it limits the amount of events that are happening.”
He said that checking in with people about their mental health is also a big part of what he does.
“When I call a Hmong person, I ask them how they’re doing, I speak to them in Hmong, ask them if they have eaten, if they have any food,” he said.
He says while there are translated fliers and posts on Facebook about COVID-19 safety, sometimes just being able to speak with someone is the most effective.
“There are pamphlets and Facebook memes and posts — they’re great, but you have to be able to target all your audiences, Yang said. “And with the older generation, not everyone is going to be able to access, some may not be able to be literate in English or Hmong.That’s why it’s important for individuals to be verbal about it.”
So far, Yang said about half of the Hmong population that he speaks with are knowledgeable about how to stay safe from COVID-19, but the other half typically don’t know as much. He said he hopes that with the help of virus tracers like himself, they can shift that balance so that it’s a majority who know how to stay safe.
“I have seen Hmong individuals who are very understanding and knowledgeable of COVID-19, but I’ve also seen some who aren’t either, so there are both,” Yang said. “There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.”
The Sierra Health Foundation is currently working to train about 30 more tracers who can work in all of Sacramento’s different communities of color to continue to help educate and stop the spread.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.