Archdiocese Steps Up – Vaccines Are Coming. Until Then, Be Careful, Doctors Warn
From left to right: Eloisa Gonzalez, M.D., M.P.H., Director for Cardiovascular and School Health, LA County Department of Public Health (DPH); Isaac Cuevas. Director of Immigration and Public Affairs, Archdiocese of Los Angeles; Dr. Erika Flores-Uribe, Resident, University of Southern California Medical Center; Daniel Sharp, Chief, Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs; Rigo Reyes, Executive Director, LA County’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
By Mark Hedin, Ethnic Media Services
County officials working to keep Angelenos safe from COVID-19 have a partner in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the nation’s largest. And for immigrants, there’s some encouraging news from Washington, too.
At a town hall and community news briefing hosted on March 18 by LA County’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, archdiocese and county health officials described the battle against COVID-19 and necessary steps to prevent a new surge in cases.
In “an incredibly positive development for immigrant communities,” OIA Chief Daniel Sharp said, the Biden administration last week suspended enforcement of the so-called ‘public charge’ rule that led many to fear that using government services would hurt their immigration and green card efforts.
“In the Latino community, in the immigrant community, many times there’s a big fear and a big apprehension to going out and seeking help from our municipal services,” archdiocese Director of Immigration Affairs Isaac Cuevas said.
“As a church, we’re a trusted source, and when we encourage them to do so, they do so and they listen. As the largest archdiocese in the country, with almost 5 million registered Catholics, we take that very seriously.”
“The best way to love and respect thy neighbor is to get vaccinated,” Cuevas advised.
“From a faith standpoint, the vaccine is morally acceptable,” he added, citing how Archbishop Jose H. Gomez publicized his own vaccination, and noting Pope Francis’ endorsement as well.
Vaccines are provided confidentially, at no charge, and without regard to a person’s immigration status, but the biggest challenge to vaccinating people remains a shortage of the vaccine itself, said Dr. Eloisa Gonzalez of LA County’s Department of Public Health.
By May 1, however, “we should have enough vaccine available to us for every person ages 16 and over who wants to get vaccinated,” Gonzalez added, citing recent pronouncements from President Biden.
Deaths from COVID-19 are fewer than they were at the beginning of the year, Gonzalez said. But they’re still triple what they were in early November, prior to a holiday-season surge.
Along with promises of increased supplies, officials and community organizations are emphasizing equity considerations in vaccine distribution, with 40% of new supplies being earmarked for “low-resourced” communities.
Cuevas emphasized the archdiocese’s out-sized profile in such “hard-hit” places.
“Once the pandemic hit,” he said, the church realized “there were two groups of people,” those with more time and the desire to help, and those who needed it.
From the beginning, church volunteers and donors have offered their support from providing and delivering groceries and service referrals to sometimes simply checking in with people over the phone.
With St. Vincent de Paul’s and the Knights of Columbus, the church established a “Hearts to Serve” hotline: (855) 423-6780.
The archdiocese barely missed a beat in keeping its schools open, establishing virtual learning programs within days of closure orders and continuing lunch programs that Cuevas said have provided more than a million meals.
Department of Health Services Dr. Erika Flores Uribe offered perspectives from her work in the emergency room.
“As we re-open, as we start getting more vaccination into the community, it’s going to be really critical that we take care of those infection-prevention practices: wearing your mask, staying six feet away, staying at home if you feel sick, washing your hands regularly.
“We have Easter coming up, we have spring break coming up. All of those things that we celebrate could lead to a surge if we are not very, very careful during this time.”
Sharp addressed concerns that accessing COVID vaccinations and other services would impact someone’s immigration status:
“The short answer is that it will not,” he said.
“When you go to get vaccinated, your medical information is private, and will not be shared with federal immigration officials. The vaccine is free for everyone, including all immigrants,” Sharp said.
Flores Uribe emphasized the importance of continued testing, noting that “We are seeing that vaccination is increasing, but we are also seeing that testing demand is decreasing.”
“People of color, black, Latinx populations still have the highest case rates and in some cases lower vaccination rates.”
“There is some immunity, some protection from those who’ve been infected before and as more and more people get vaccinated. But not enough people are fully immune or fully protected to prevent another surge from happening right now.”
“The pandemic has been hard for so many of us, particularly for family members and loved ones who have lost someone during this time. It is incredibly saddening,” she said.