April 15, 2020

Multnomah County and Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration teamed up this week for a Spanish-language video news briefing on public health guidance, primary care clinic services, employment rights and community resources during COVID-19.

Regional lead health officer Dr. Jennifer Vines provided an overview of cases, with the county now close to 1,000 cases and a quarter ill in the hospital. Testing still isn’t available for all, she said. But access is increasing.

“The good news is that it seems the number of cases hasn't accelerated like it has in Washington or in New York City. If we continue with the state’s order to maintain distance as much as we can, it seems like the local hospitals will be able to accommodate the most severe cases.”

She acknowledged it’s hard to remain physically apart from the people we love, and it’s difficult also when we live in households with a number of people. There is no dedicated location or care center for an individual to go if they don’t want to risk making other people at home ill. 

In those cases, people must do the best they can, she said. Dedicate one room and one bathroom to the ill person, if possible, and identify one healthy person with no other health conditions to care for that person. 

“And most importantly, call for care if you have serious symptoms.”

Vines suggested viewers visit C19oregon.com, a free application available in many languages to enter your symptoms and other risks, and get recommendations about what to do and where to seek help.

Taking new patients

One place residents can go for primary care is any health center operated by Multnomah County. These clinics are accepting new patients, without consideration of insurance coverage or ability to pay. 

Ruby Ibarra, a community health worker at Multnomah County’s La Clínica de Buena Salud, has worked for the county for 25 years. She serves Latinx residents at the Cully neighborhood health center.

“The clinics are open, for everyone,” she reiterated. “No matter your legal status, your race, your sexual orientation.”

Clinics have adjusted to COVID-19 by shifting appointments to phone whenever possible, and Ibarra said there are many providers available. For patients who have chronic diseases or other risk factors and can’t leave their homes, clinic staff like her have started delivering food and medications to people’s homes. 

“We drop medicines off and make sure they have what they need. We also try and make sure they have food, basic needs.”

For the broader community, Ibarra just wants them to know she’s still here, along with teams of community health workers and providers to meet their needs. 

“We are all doing our part and we hope the community does its part and we are united in this. In union is the force. I know we are all anxious, but we’re here to serve you. Whatever you need, call your clinic.”

County Response

Pilar Montejo is the emergency response liaison for community and faith organizations with the County’s Emergency Operations Center, where agencies work together to respond to the outbreak and reach residents with vital information.

The County’s response incorporates planning, logistics, public information and operations. It also includes an expansive team of liaisons. 

“And I’m part of this team called liaisons,” she said. “There are more than 20 groups of people connecting with community sectors — schools, healthcare, food service, religious groups, businesses. We’re translating materials and making videos. We connect with leaders of those communities. We make calls, write emails, hold video conferences, and make connections with resources.”

All of that they share on the web at multco.us/covid19. They also lift community voices in policy discussions and public health guidance.

“We need to know what people need. We need to know if the information we’re sharing is accessible,” she said. “If it’s not, tell us how to get it to you. If you don’t feel you have enough, contact us. And contact your community leaders,” she said. 

Employment rights

Even as the Governor has asked most residents to work from home if possible, many residents must still go to work. Ricardo Vázquez Rodríguez, a public education outreach coordinator with OSHA, said they get 2,000 calls a year normally. They got more than that in two weeks during COVID-19. 

Many of those calls are about safe distance, about whether people can go to work, or if police might stop them for driving to work. 

“These are difficult times. Many people in our community are concerned,” Vázquez Rodríguez said. 

He wants workers to know that physical distance is an important thing for anyone who must go to a job site, and to get creative with face coverings. N95 respirators are being saved for healthcare workers, so people should think about how to make their own coverings at home. 

The best way to find information about employment is to go to: https://osha.oregon.gov/Pages/re/covid-19-sp.aspx.

“The only thing we can say is remain united,” he said. “These are difficult times but remaining united, working together, we’ll get out of this.”