Senior Medical Director James Cruz of Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan offers advice to the Latino community about how to stay safe until fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Dr. Cruz proudly identifies as a member of the Latino community.
Dr. Cruz says to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it is very important that people continue to wear a mask, wash their hands frequently, and maintain social distance -- and to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s your turn.
Below, he answers some questions about how Latinos can protect themselves from COVID-19.
Q. Why are Latinos most affected by COVID-19 in California?
The Latino community in California is the group with the highest number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19. There are several reasons for this. The first is that Latinos tend to live in multigenerational households, with grandparents, uncles and cousins all living together in the same house – so if one household member gets sick, it can be difficult to prevent the spread to others who are living in the same home.
The second reason is that many Latinos are essential workers, who cannot work remotely, and are more likely to encounter the virus from interacting with coworkers and customers.
There is also stigma in the Latino community that someone who has COVID-19 is a danger to the family or community. As a result, someone may be afraid to acknowledge that they have a fever, a cough, or that they have lost their sense of smell or taste.
Legal status and immigration concerns also prevent many Latinos to seek medical help. If they have a green card or are in the process of getting one, they fear that if they receive medical care, it will negatively affect their record. The undocumented fear that sharing their information in order to get tested or vaccinated may be used to deport them.
Q. For multigenerational families who live together, how should they be safe and protect themselves when they have a family member who has COVID-19?
This is a challenge, but it is very important to be mindful and follow the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci and President Biden’s Coronavirus Task Force: wear a mask properly, over the nose and the mouth. If you live with relatives who work outside the home and interact with others, you should wear a mask at home, wash hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds, and maintain social distance. Stay home as much as possible. If you live with relatives who go outside infrequently – only to the grocery store or the pharmacy – you don’t need to wear a mask at home.
If a member of your family is infected with the virus, keep as much space as possible. Keep at least six feet apart. The sick person should wear a mask and have only one person in the household take care of them. The rest of the family needs to wear a mask at home and wash hands often with soap and water and keep distance of six feet away. These recommendations should be followed even if you are outdoors.
Q. What is your advice for family gatherings?
For the most current information, refer to websites like the county health department and local health officials. In general, you should refrain from interacting with individuals who are not part of your everyday household. It is probably best not to go to a birthday party or even a funeral because even if you wear PPE (personal protective equipment), it could be challenging to maintain social distancing and to refrain from hugging and touching your relatives.
Q. What is your recommendation for safety at work if you can’t work remotely?
You need to request PPE from your employer and use it properly. Depending on the type of work that you do, your employer should provide a mask, a face shield, a gown, and gloves. If your employer does not provide PPE, consider purchasing a mask and other personal protective devices to protect yourself. It’s also very important that you stay six feet away from other people – both coworkers and customers – when you are at the workplace.
Q. How and when do you recommend COVID-19 testing?
Anytime you experience symptoms, consult with your doctor. The most common symptoms related to COVID-19 are fever, frequent cough, loss of smell and taste, and sometimes a runny nose and sore throat.
If you don’t have health insurance, consult with a trusted source, like your county health department. They have websites with information about testing locations and how to proceed.
Q. Is it safe to travel at this time? If you do travel, what are the most important things to consider?
Guidance about travel is a very fluid thing – one day it can be okay, but not tomorrow. Currently, travel more than 100 miles away from your home is strongly discouraged. Stay home as much as possible. It’s not a good idea to take a vacation abroad, especially because in many countries they have fewer resources, testing or treatment for COVID-19 than in the USA.
If you have an emergency and have to take a plane, check with the airline for their rules and restrictions. Many require testing three days before traveling, and your destination may require you to quarantine for several days when you arrive.
Q. Is it better to visit a doctor virtually – by phone or video call - or in person?
A virtual visit is an excellent way to consult with your doctor if you have a concern, you want to ask questions, or you want the doctor to evaluate you if you have symptoms. It’s very convenient and safe.
If you think that you have an emergency, before going to the doctor’s office, call to ask for guidance, especially if it is during business hours. Your physician may direct you to the emergency room. If it is after hours, call your local hospital and ask for advice about what to do.
Q. Any other important advice?
When it comes to COVID-19 safety and getting vaccinated, believe the science from trusted sources like the public health department. Believe the doctors -- people like Dr. Anthony Fauci. Follow what they say. It’s the only way that all of us are getting through this pandemic safely.