Adventist Health Lodi Memorial officials said on Wednesday that San Joaquin County’s surge in positive COVID-19 cases is mainly due to large gatherings — both public and private — during recent holiday weekends.
And while residents from all walks of life came to celebrate Mother’s Day and Memorial Day as the county flattened the curve of confirmed cases, the demographic that has been hit the most by the pandemic has been the Hispanic community.
With another holiday weekend quickly approaching, the hospital is partnering with local nonprofits and churches to provide outreach, education and free testing in an effort to prevent another increase in positive cases.
The free testing will be provided at Rancho San Miguel, located at 620 S. Cherokee Lane, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday in an outreach event for Lodi's Hispanic community.
Dr. Patricia Iris, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said staff saw a dramatic increase in positive COVID-19 cases immediately following the Memorial Day weekend. The surge will not be going away anytime soon, she said, so the hospital and its partners — El Concilio, First Baptist Church of Lodi and Community Medical Centers — want to educate the city’s Hispanic community about the importance of social distancing and wearing masks to help stop the spread of the virus.
“We wanted to get this (event off the ground) before July 4,” Iris said. “We know there’s going to be a lot of congregating and parties happening. We just want to make sure people who decide to get together are doing so safely.”
Hispanics account for 39% of Lodi’s population, Iris said, yet they represent 70% of positive COVID-19 cases in town. In addition, she said 75% of the patients currently being treated for COVID-19 at the hospital are Hispanic.
According to the COVID-19 dashboard at the San Joaquin County Public Health Services website, www.sjcphs.org, the Hispanic community make up 41.1% of the county’s population, and account for 40.2% of positive cases. However, Public Health only has racial or ethnic data for 63.3% of all cases in the county.
Comparatively, white residents make up 32.7% of the county population and 12.9% of confirmed cases, Asian Americans make up 14.9% of the county and 6.5% of cases, and African Americans are 6.6% of the county and 3.1% of cases.
The hospital conducted a series of interviews with its COVID-19 patients over the last two weeks, Iris said, and found the virus was being spread through large family gatherings and consistent expressions of love through physical contact, two factors in which state and county departments of public health have urged residents not to participate.
“With the Hispanic culture, the rise in cases had to do with something found in greetings,” Iris said. “When families and friends meet, they engage in a lot of hugging and kissing. It’s just a mental part of their lives to greet someone in that way, and it’s difficult to stop practicing a way to show love and care.”
In addition, Iris said many of those interviewed admitted to relaxing their social distancing because they thought they were with family and were safe. Families often travel from different regions of the county or valley to visit for large gatherings, and potentially bring the virus with them, she said.
Many of those interviewed live in multi-generational households, Iris added, with nearly a dozen family members traveling to different areas of the county and Central Valley for work, coming into contact with a variety of people who may be asymptomatic.
As a result, some family members are likely bringing the virus home at the end of the day, she said.
It is difficult for many to shelter in place when they need to provide for their families, said Dr. Inez Ruiz-Huston, El Concilio vice president of special programs and operations.
“You can’t tell us to stay home. We have to work,” she said. “For many of these families, they may have just one or two members who are employed and provide the finances to keep roofs over their heads or food on the table. When they are asked to stay home, they don’t know how they will be able to afford necessities to be able to live their lives.”
Many Hispanic residents work several different jobs, and their employers often do not provide medical benefits or sick leave, Ruiz-Huston added.
Additionally, many are members of mixed families, which include undocumented immigrants who cannot qualify for unemployment insurance or cannot receive the $1,200 stimulus from the federal government, furthering their need to remain at work during the pandemic, she said.
El Concilio is working on a way to encourage employers to supply masks for their workers, Ruiz-Huston said, and is asking partners for Friday’s event to provide masks and shields when residents are screened for COVID-19.
“We are very passionate about taking care of our family and friends,” she said. “With this event Friday, we want to promote how to stay healthy, but do so in a manner that is culturally sensitive. We will tell them that we don’t want them to stay away from each other, but if they do get together, make sure they keep at least six feet between them. We love our families, and love to be around them, but we need to protect them and keep them safe from this virus.”
Community Medical Centers will provide as many tests as possible to the hospital for the morning round of testing. Carbon Health, a mobile medical unit, will provide 200 tests for the afternoon session.
In addition to free tests and outreach, the hospital will be holding a TikTok contest for people to design the best way to greet someone that allows for social distancing.
El Concilio will have a tent to provide resources for accessibility to health and safety organizations.