AUSTIN, Texas - Latinos in the 25-member Austin Latino Coalition say Austin Public Health is not doing enough to help address the disproportionate numbers of COVID19 cases in the community. Austin Public Health data from July 7 shows 52% of confirmed cases and 41% of deaths in Travis County are self-identified as Hispanic and nearly 60 percent of hospitalizations in the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan statistical area are Latinos.
For weeks, the Austin Latino Coalition says they’ve been volunteering their time and money to fill in the gaps.
One of the 25 coalition members is Frank Fuentes, the chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association, based in Austin.
Fuentes’ day typically starts by checking in with contract supply houses around the city, like Viking Fence in Austin. His association has used their resources to make sure they have PPE and sanitizer freely available.
“We have approximately 1,100 members, they're business owners, contractors,” Fuentes says.
His goal is to make sure just one small group of frontline workers are prepared for covid19. He prefers a more humble approach saying he’s just helping out his family.
“I've known them for a long time and we've helped each other during the good times and the bad. We're there to help them, [and say] what's the problem,” Fuentes says, in between phone calls and meetings.
Fuentes’ responsibilities include serving as chairman of the USHCA, running his own construction business, he’s a family man, and he’s one of the 25 on the Austin Latino Coalition.
USHCA has used its own funding to produce PSA’s in Spanish and English with culturally relevant information on wearing a mask and PSA’s focused on educating construction workers about best practices during a pandemic.
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“So, that's [a phone call about] a joint partnership that we're talking about so we can collaborate and start testing our folks,” Fuentes says, hanging up a phone call.
They're working right now to plan another testing event similar to the Austin Public Health collaboration where 300 front line construction industry workers were tested for free.
“At first, I was a little bit hesitant saying the city is not working with us, why do you want to continue knocking on their door? We're doing our own thing,” Fuentes said. “I don’t know why, [Austin Public Health] they’ve been bragging about how they’ve done an incredible job of outreach of course you and I know that they have not, because the numbers are the numbers.”
Austin Public Health responded to those criticisms saying, “Austin Public Health data shows that this is part of a national trend of systemic issues with a demographic largely made up of people of color working in essential and service jobs with a longstanding lack of access to adequate health care.”
APH says since the beginning they’ve ensured the Hispanic/Latinx community is provided with resources and information to stay healthy. They say there are multiple documents in Spanish available on their website, they are in the process of developing a Spanish language town hall focused on education and testing information, they’ve produced interviews and PSAs in Spanish, provided interpreters via 311 for completing forms and accessing resources and translated flyers, posters, press releases and social media posts into Spanish.
“Ask them, when did they start doing the outreach, what was the substance of the outreach and what was the median that they used for the outreach, if the common answer is social media, then how in the world, did they expect to reach those that don’t participate in social media, which is the majority of our folks,” Fuentes says skeptically.
“I wasn't sure where all this was going, essential, non-essential,” Zaragoza Barbosa, owner of Austin Wholesale Decking says. He credits Fuentes and USHCA for clearing up confusions around COVID19.
“The Hispanic Contractors Association is made up of folks like Mr. Barbosa, they're the ones that make it strong, they're the ones that give it life,” Fuentes says. He insists the credit shouldn’t go to his efforts but instead to his members.
As Fuentes walks out of the Austin Wholesale Decking and hops back into his truck, he’s onto the next spot. His overhead visor full of religious items like a silver crucifix, and pictures of St. Micahel the archangel, patron saint of doctors, and sickness. He also has the beloved “Our lade of Guadalupe” who is the patron saint of the Mexican people.
“When you're a man of faith, you carry your faith with you everywhere you go, especially in these times of the pandemic,” Fuentes says, showing his religious symbols. “ It gives you a sense of confidence. Oftentimes we need that confidence where we can walk, where we know there might be some danger of getting infected but you can still walk with the confidence that no matter what happens, you know God's going to be in your life and your faith is going to carry you on.”
Just before press time, Fuentes shared a member of his association has died from COVID19. He wrote via text saying, “this virus is serious, folks are passing away from it. The question is who is next and will you be close them?”
Austin Public Health says “ultimately the health of our residents in Austin and Travis County is our number one priority. We will continue to refine our efforts and to work very closely with the community. " They are hosting an online multilingual conversation on COVID19 Saturday, July 11 at 10 a.m. Details can be found here.
USHCA has another testing event planned for frontline construction industry workers. That is set for July 18th at Sacred Heart Catholic Church from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler released the following statement to FOX 7 Austin:
“Our City Council has stepped up in ways few others have - providing emergency funds, and stopping evictions so that people can stay safe in their homes. It is clearly not enough. The COVID-19 numbers for black and brown communities show that more work is needed to overcome historic inequality. Austin Public Health is currently working on a draft strategic plan to address this. We are asking our Hispanic/Latinx community to give us their ideas for this plan.”
FOX 7 Austin is working to keep you up to date with coronavirus, with both local and national developments. You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.