With each week that goes by and with the progress we have made in the phased re-opening, it may feel like we are past this pandemic, however that is far from the truth. Although many of us have gotten through the worst, many of our communities continue to face the detrimental effects of COVID-19, especially within our most vulnerable communities, such as our immigrant communities and communities of color.
To help us understand these complexities and coping strategies we had a Zoom session (also streamed onto Facebook) on Thursday, July 9th, with our guest speaker Pablo Sadler, Mental Health Medical Director at the Bureau of Mental Health at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and a Mental Health Advisor with us at AMPHS
The following are highlights of our discussion with Pablo Sadler:
What is COVID-19 and what preventative measures were recommended by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene?
- COVID-19 is a virus that is transmitted mainly through our saliva, released as tiny droplets when we cough, sneeze, or talk which can then enter through the nose, mouth, or eyes. Once they enter the body, some people may not present with symptoms while others may present with symptoms that range from mild (such as sneezing and coughing) to severe (death).
- Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with water and soap several times a day.
- If you have fever, cough, or shortness of breath please call your doctor and stay home in isolation unless you are told otherwise
- A way to prevent he spread of this disease is physical distance. Maintaining a physical distance of 6 feet apart can limit the reach of these saliva droplets and prevent them from entering the bodies of those around us. Physical barriers are also important. The use of masks specifically protect not only ourselves but also those around us by limiting the droplets released while coughing and sneezing. Being outdoors also helps to dissipate and dilute the droplets in the air versus being indoors.
Although it may be easy to present these preventative measures to the public, it is a lot harder to implement these measures within our communities. What kinds of situations do immigrants and people of color face in the U.S. that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic?
- The pandemic made the differences that exist in our country more apparent, specifically through differences in mortality rates. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community members were more likely to be infected and to die at rates 2-3 times greater compared to Whites.
- This was not due to biological predispositions in BIPOC communities.
- Historically, people of color have been discriminated against in numerous ways; for example, in the places they live, where they work, through their wages, and access to resources.
- During the most aggressive phase of the pandemic, essential workers had to continue working. Because of the same historical discrimation that people of color have faced, they are overrepresented in these essential jobs and due to the lack of access to safe housing and lack of better paying jobs–also a result of discrimination–many people of color did not have the safety net of savings to rely on and did not have the opportunity to stay at home or work from home.
- This especially affected undocumented immigrants who had no government benefits available to them, such as unemployment, food stamps, or healthcare coverage, and ultimately were exposed through the most fatal phase of the of pandemic . While many people were able to stay at home, communities of color had to go to work and worst of all, were not provided enough protective equipment to protect themselves against this virus.
- Technological barriers were also prevalent during this COVID-19 pandemic, such as lack of access to high speed internet, lack of access to devices–which are expensive and not as accessible to people who earn low incomes. Lack of access to important information shared through these technological mediums also affected immigrant communities and communities of color.
- Many communities of color and immigrant communities also live in poorer neighborhoods, where there is a lack of resources available to them. Many hospitals within these neighborhoods did not have the same resources available to them as hospitals in more affluent neighborhoods. Unequal quality of medical attention was given to people across NYC.
In addition to the factors of discrimination and inequalities that exist in our country, immigrants typically live between two worlds, here in America and also within their country of origin. What kind of stressors arise for immigrants who continue to have ties with their home country?
- The inability to travel between the two countries is a factor that causes stress due to the danger of traveling during this pandemic and the expenses that result from such a trip.
- It is also difficult for individuals who financially support the loved ones that they left behind in their home country. This is money that the people in our home countries survive on, however, with the immense job loss and reduction of hours that our communities faced, it also impacted the amount of money being sent back to our countries of origin.
- ICE deported people who were infected with COVID-19 to Central American countries making the situation of our friends and family in our home countries even worse.
Although some these challenges may appear to be inevitable for our communities, the following are recommendations for community members who may be dealing with these particular challenges:
- Mental health goes beyond avoiding depression or anxiety, it relates to being able to enjoy life. This involves different levels, such as at the individual, family and community levels.
- At the community level:
- Many of the causes for these challenges are social and political and therefore a part of the solution to these challenges are also social and political.
- Participating in and supporting community based organizations, such as those advocating for immigrant rights, workers rights, and health accessibility, can be the most effective way of creating change within our communities.
- Getting involved in your community can make a big difference in tackling the political and social problems seen within this pandemic. This type of mobilization will force the government to listen, such as we are currently witnessing in the Black Lives Matter movement.
- At an individual level:
- Stress is a response to the events occurring in our lives, such as to the death of a loved one, financial burdens, and illness.
- This is expressed physically through our bodies and through our emotions. For example, physically, headaches and an upset stomach can be stress responses. Emotionally, we may feel sad or have a lack of motivation to do our regular activities.
- It is important to be aware of the responses that our body is experiencing.
- A way we can learn more about these responses is by acknowledging them. For example, if a close friend points out that you are not acting like your usual self, rather than disregarding their comment, ask them: why do you say that? What differences are you noticing? For how long have you noticed this change?
- Not all reactions require professional help, but an effective way to notice that these changes may require additional attention is by the level at which they are affecting important aspects of your life, such as our relationships with our loved ones, our households, our job, and our school life. When one or more of these aspects are being affected negatively, it could be an indicator that professional help may be needed.
- Some resources we can turn to include: AMPHS and NYCWell
- Fortunately, there are many things we can do to avoid reaching this level of stress. We can change the things that are under our control, such as limiting the amount of news we watch, using reliable sources of information rather than paying mind to rumors, eating nutritious meals and avoid eating junk food, remain hydrated, staying physically active, and staying connected with our loved ones.
Everyone in the U.S. has been affected by COVID-19, why is it important to speak about these particular issues?
Many times the victims are blamed for the inequities that occured. Additionally, those affected feel angry and may feel like they didn’t have an opportunity to protect themselves and take the necessary precautions, even if they wanted to. It is important to acknowledge their anger because they have a right to be upset. The number of deaths that occurred could have been prevented through government actions and measures that would have provided these vulnerable communities with protection but instead left them exposed to this virus. This is a cycle that has continued throughout history and it was not a mistake or something that occurred by chance. By bringing this issue to light and addressing the frustrations to these communities, we can start making changes to the systems that encourage these inequities. After the virus is controlled/gone we will still be dealing with a social and financial crisis. The response to this crisis should be a collective one. Rather than letting the rage consume our communities, we can turn it into action to create healthier communities for all the people living in our country.
The following are community organizations in Sunset Park who are the forefront and support our immigrant communities: