This week marks the second anniversary of an initiative created to support the Spanish-speaking community during the historically challenging period of the pandemic.
“A unique space, by Latinos, for Latinos, and in our language,” according to Dr. Matias Valenzuela, Director of the Office of Equity and Community Partnerships at Public Health – Seattle & King County.
This space is “Con Confianza y en Comunidad: Hablando sobre COVID-19 y temas que nos afectan” (With confidence and in community: Talking about COVID-19 and issues that affect us), a series created at the beginning of the pandemic through a collaboration between community and Public Health – Seattle & King County. Here, members of the Latinx community gather to share updates and resources related to COVID-19 and other health and wellness topics.
“Con Confianza” began as a response to a void of information available in Spanish language, but it has quickly become a safe space where the public can interact directly with community leaders and members of Public Health who speak their language, know their culture, and understand the challenges facing the Latino community.
A second year full of challenges
“In the first year of the pandemic, we quickly realized that the Latino community was one of the most affected in terms of cases and other issues such as economic insecurity,” said Dr. Valenzuela. Additionally, “many of us were essential workers.”
Meanwhile, the Latino community was not able to count on the same level of support — “because, for example, as immigrants, not everyone had access to benefits such as unemployment,” said Valenzuela.
In the second year of the pandemic, while some areas of support improved, economic issues continued to be of great concern to many community members. Even though there was initially a moratorium against evictions, many people were still under a great deal of stress about owing rent, being unemployed, or having to leave work to take care of children.
Con Confianza team members supported the community by providing information on resources available from King County and other organizations, including mask distribution, help with isolation and quarantine, rental assistance, and resources for businesses.
While our community faced these obstacles, new challenges were cropping up all the time. The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines was a great relief to many, but many barriers existed to getting the shot. The public also grappled with questions, doubts and false information amplified by social networks.
“We continued to experience similar things as the first year – fear, not knowing what was going to happen, and misinformation,” said Gabriela López, a member of the Con Confianza organizing team.
Fighting against disinformation
One of the most difficult aspects of this second year of the pandemic was the speed with which information changed: about the vaccine, mask mandates, guidelines for schools, home tests, and much more. At times, the information seemed to change from day to day.
“We were all learning almost at the same time, because new information would come out and we all had the same questions,” said López. This made it difficult at times to bring up-to-date information to the community without generating confusion.
“Every time there was a new development, we entered a stage of trying to provide information again. People were afraid, had doubts, or just did not know what was going on. Every time another step was taken, we faced that same challenge in Public Health: people didn’t know what to believe and what not to believe,” López said.
“Are the vaccines safe and effective? Are they going to ask for documentation? I already got COVID, so why should I worry?” Valenzuela said, listing some frequently asked questions.
“The level of disinformation has been very high,” he agreed.
Con Confianza stuck to its original strategy of collaborating with community leaders and authorities that the public could trust. Among the many guests that made appearances in weekly meetings, Dr. Julián Pérez of Sea Mar Community Health Center and Dr. Helen Stankiewicz from the University of Washington became indispensable members of the team, attending dozens of times to take questions from community members.
“It helped a lot when someone with knowledge, with a good reputation, who was a medical authority, like Dr. Helen for example, spoke,” López said.
She gave an example: “We had a meeting with lots of doctors attending where they discussed what was in the vaccines. I remember that I sent that video to many WhatsApp groups, including a group in which there were people who didn’t want to get vaccinated. And the majority of the people in this group told me, ‘Yes, it was very good, it’s great that you sent it to us!'”
Using various platforms has also helped get this information in front of more people and broadened the reach of the group. If a community member cannot join the Zoom meeting, for example, they can watch the video live on Facebook or see the recording later both there and on YouTube.
“There are videos that have up to 900 views on YouTube on a day where there were maybe 30 people on Zoom,” López said.
Looking towards the third year
What will the next year bring? One thing the Con Confianza team agrees on is the importance of mental health for the community.
“The topic of mental health has been something that continues to be not only of interest, but also of great concern,” said Giselle Zapata-García, the COVID-19 Latinx community response coordinator.
Two years of wearing face masks, being cooped up at home, not having in-person classes, all paired with a high level of stress have caused mental exhaustion for many.
“There is a sense of fatigue in the community, a real tiredness,” López explained. “And not just for the Latino community – for everyone.”
Con Confianza hosted several presentations on mental health issues in the last year that generated a lot of interest from the public. This will continue to be a focus in the coming year.
Yet with or without the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that this group’s work is not going to be finished anytime soon.
“As long as there are infections, as long as there are hospitalizations, as long as not all people are vaccinated, or haven’t gotten their booster shot, there is still a place for Con Confianza to continue to be a trusted space for people to receive information,” López said.
“We must do everything possible to support Con Confianza y En Comunidad so that it can continue at some level, even if the pandemic is over,” added Zapata-García.
“We’ve seen that the community feels that in this way, they can come together and share their concerns, and that helps us see how we can better support the community. This allows us to have the long-term trust of the community,” she said.
“We have had an open forum, with different voices, and we have answered all kinds of questions,” said Valenzuela.
“Now our community has the information it needs to make decisions. We still have work to do, but we should be proud of what we have achieved.”
We’d like to thank all the guests who have joined us over the last two years and given generously of their time, as well as the members of the community who continue to attend and ask questions.
If you have ideas for other topics or guests, email us at email@example.com. Your suggestions are welcome.
Originally published on May 19, 2022.