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'Promotoras': reaching out to Latino communities to combat coronavirus

An innovative contact tracing program is launching in the South Bay, working directly with Latino community members to help battle COVID-19.

CHULA VISTA, Calif. — As the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb in the South Bay, an innovative contact tracing program is now being launched.

This new approach uses a time-tested solution: 'promotoras': Spanish-speaking community advocates, who help combat the mistrust which some families may have of outside health workers.

Even before coronavirus, 'promotoras' have played a huge role in the South Bay, serving as a bridge between community members and all sorts of local resources, from healthy food and medical care to education and counseling. That role has now become even more crucial in the ongoing battle to bring down the number of COVID-19 cases.

"The 'promotora' is always there in good and bad times," said Barbara Lugo. 

She and Anita Pedroza have worked as 'promotoras' through South Bay Community Services in Chula Vista for years now, as part of a current team of nine.

"They trust us and they have confidence in us," Pedroza told News 8. 

'Promotoras' serve as specially-trained, bilingual community health advocates for thousands of local families, with whom they share a common language and culture.

"They live here, they shop with them, they're dropping their kids off at the same school," said Rachel Morineau, community engagement director with South Bay Community Services. "It is more like connecting with a neighbor."

That connection is now more critical than ever in the age of coronavirus,  which has impacted South Bay communities disproportionately hard.

"Lately we've been receiving calls  from community members that are really sad because they either have a positive case of COVID in the family or because they lost someone to COVID," Lugo said.  

'Promotoras' have been helping to connect community members with available resources, as they deal with all aspects of the pandemic, from finances to safety. Already, they've helped to distribute food on a weekly basis through South Bay Community Services to more than 80,000 families since the pandemic began. 

"If they lose their job they're not going to be able to pay their rent, pay their utilities, buy food," said Pedroza, "and one of the other major concerns right now is whether or not to send their children to school."

'Promotoras' have now trained to take on a new role: as COVID-19 contact tracers in the South Bay.

"I think it's going to be very effective because we have that trust from the community already," Lugo told News 8. 

Building on the relationship they already have with families here, a 'promotora' will be assigned to a local resident who tests positive for coronavirus, contacting them via phone, email or text.

"In special cases, in-person visits are conducted using all necessary precautions," said Mauricio Torre, vice president of programs and operations for South Bay Community Services.

They will also help to track down who else the infected person may have been in contact with, while also providing a daily check-in to ensure they're doing well.

"It is a different culture, so we need to tell them why it's important not to get together with family members, why they need to hold back a little more, things like that," Lugo explained. 

These critical actions can collectively help decrease the number of coronavirus cases in the community,as well as the county.

"They truly love the work they do, and the community loves them also," Morineau added.