Transcript:

Gomez: The Hispanic community in Newport is quite large. It's grown pretty exponentially in the past three to five years. Large families, multiple family members, multiple family units living together — so it could be grandparents, children, grandchildren, siblings, etc. Many people in a small household, so they're in very close contact. In addition, many of them work in restaurants where they're also very much on top of each other. 

So it's, you know, they're at high risk for getting COVID. And we've seen that in the past month or two that we've just kind of had an outbreak here in the Hispanic community.

We were very lucky last spring that we, you know, the Hispanic population kind of came away unscathed. We had some people sick, but not really. And even in November, it wasn't so bad. But this past couple of months has been very, very difficult. We've had a testing clinic the past six weeks, maybe, and we're at about an 18% positivity rate.

And once you're positive, your whole house is down for two weeks, which is devastating financially, emotionally. So it's crucial to get them vaccinated.

Macías: Everybody from our community works in restaurants, hospitality. So the owners from the businesses have to shut down the restaurants or any business that they have because everybody gets COVID, so it's a chain.

Ayres-Brown: And you mention the positive infections. I saw that according to state Department of Health data, Newport’s Hispanic and Latino community has been disproportionately affected by infections. As of earlier this month, about 20% of the reported infections in Newport were within the community but only 4% of vaccinations given, at that point, were to Hispanic or Latino residents. What factors or barriers do you think contribute to this?

Gomez: It's difficult for people to schedule vaccinations. Actually figuring it out online — many of them don't have computers or access to internet. A lot of them are just using their phone. And it's even, you know, in their own language, it's difficult for them to understand it. So it's very hard to kind of maneuver and navigate that registration system.

And then the barrier of getting there — thankfully, there's a clinic in Middletown. But we've had a priority list of folks that have really needed vaccinations, and I've gone on every Tuesday to go in and try to make appointments for them. And there, I think I've managed to make two appointments in Middletown because there just wasn't any availability.

And we did speak to the Rhode Island Department of Health a few weeks ago about our concerns. And they said, well, we're having a Hispanic and BIPOC event in Providence and Woonsocket this weekend and next weekend. And our response to that was number one, getting to Woonsocket and Providence is very difficult. And number two, if you work in the service industry, Saturday and Sunday are your biggest days! So again, it's just those kinds of barriers that have really been difficult for them.

Ayres-Brown: Newport was not among the hard-hit communities or zip codes that the state prioritized for early vaccination. But as you mentioned, the city is home to high-risk communities that are often concentrated in higher-density areas, sometimes in multi-generational homes, and work in higher-risk jobs fueling often Newport's hospitality industry. Did you agree with the zip code strategy, or did you feel that higher-risk groups in Newport could have been eligible for the vaccine sooner?

Gomez: I have a problem with the zip code issue because — Newport’s zip code, because we're one city, our density is diluted by the people who own individual homes and are spread out. But if there was an independent zip code for the North End and for the Broadway area, where everyone is so densely populated, I think they would have found that we, indeed, probably would have qualified for that densely populated title.

Ayres-Brown: So from the response that you’ve gotten from community members for this pop-up event and moving forward, do you feel like the interest and readiness is there if the access to vaccination appointments comes through?

Gomez: Absolutely. I've been astounded by how many people have said yes. I’ve probably called 100, 150 people by now and maybe 10 percent, if that, have said, ‘No, I'm not ready to do it yet,’ or ‘I want to see what happens with it.’ Everyone else has been, ‘Yep, give it to me.’ 

Because they know that, again, if they've been around it, or if they've seen it, or they've unfortunately experienced it — it's not so much the getting sick, which is horrible. But having your whole family locked down for two weeks is earth-shattering because it's no job for you. No job for your partners. No job for any adults in the house. Kids can't go to school. You know, it's just, it's devastating.

Macías: Exactly. And they know at some point, the business or the hospitality, they're going to require the vaccine for continue working for security. For safety reasons. For everybody. This is not just for the Latin community. It's just for everyone.

Ayres-Brown: Rebekah Gomez and Yolanda Macías, of Conexión Latina Newport. Thank you so much for joining me.

Gomez: Thank you.

Macías: Thank you.


This transcript was edited for length and clarity.

Antonia Ayres-Brown is the Newport Reporter for The Public’s Radio. She can be reached at antonia@thepublicsradio.org