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Investigating COVID cases in the Canal

September 3, 2020

By ROSE COSTELLO | September 3, 2020

Contact Investigator Arandu Alvarez supports clients to quarantine when they have been exposed to COVID-19.

When people impacted by COVID-19 have affordable health care, ample paid time off, and can shelter-in-place without losing employment and income, the spread of the virus will decrease for everyone in our community and region. Tragically, such human necessities are not accessible to everyone, including many individuals and families in the Canal. 

COVID-19 has unveiled disparities and inequalities in our country’s social fabric, and residents of the largely Latino Canal neighborhood of San Rafael are greatly impacted by these inequities. While 3% of COVID-19 tests in Marin County come back positive overall, 20% of those in the Canal present positive, sometimes spiking as high as 40%. 

In this vision of uplifting all of the members of our community, Canal Alliance, in partnership with the County of Marin, hired five Contact Investigators (CIs) to identify, interview, and support Canal community members exposed to or infected by COVID-19.  

Canal Alliance’s Spanish-English bilingual CIs all reside in the Canal. Immersed in the community’s experience of grieving and loss of loved ones, and familiar with barriers to economic stability and health care, the CIs are embedded in the community they serve. This has a profound impact on their ability to do their work successfully. 

Receiving a call from a CI is often jarring and upsetting. At first, CIs must inspire trust, as the current political climate foments doubt that institutions will protect people regardless of immigration status. Naturally, people are devastated to learn they tested positive for COVID-19. Call after call, CIs listen and empathize in the way a social worker or therapist would.  

From there, CIs convince clients to shelter-in-place, which is a challenging message to relay when most clients do not receive paid time off from work, have family members who recently lost jobs, and do not have the option of remote employment. To support this loss of income while in quarantine, CIs connect individuals and families to community resources and free, home-delivered food, including from Canal Alliance’s own weekly food pantry. 

In conversation with clients, CIs document where clients have recently worked or shopped and with whom they have recently visited. They then call to inform those people who have had contact with clients about their exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, while also providing instructions for quarantine and noting symptoms of the virus to watch out for. 

The work that CIs do is crucial in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring care for members of the Latino immigrant community, who are particularly impacted by the virus and make up a vast portion of the county’s frontline and essential workers. 

Even before the pandemic began, communities like that of our Latino neighbors faced barriers to health care, a living wage, affordable housing, and educational opportunities; now, on top of the barriers they’ve faced for generations, this inequity is compounded as the Latino community is heavily and disproportionately affected by the pandemic. 

When we support members of the communities most impacted by COVID-19 to have access to health care, to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, and to shelter-in-place, we build a healthy Marin county that is striving to survive the pandemic together. 

As we continue to move through and beyond the pandemic, our efforts to give everyone access to health care, safe and stable jobs, protection and support through all our institutions, and education will be central to making Marin a community where all of us can live, work, and succeed.  

For more information, check out https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/08/08/marin-county-hires-spanish-speakers-to-trace-virus-spread/ 

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