A task force has been formed that aims to provide outreach, education and awareness on COVID-19 to the Latino community, which has been disproportionately impacted by the virus.

The Latino COVID-19 Taskforce was co-founded by Jay Tamsi, attorneys H.A. Sala and David A. Torres, as well as Matt Constantine, director of the Kern County Public Health Services Department. The coalition will consist of at least 28 members from different industries throughout Kern County, with many of them being “prominent leaders” in the Latino community, according to Tamsi, who is serving as the project manager.

“The concept came up and it’s much needed as we see the numbers increasing in Kern County,” Tamsi said. “We’re going to have leadership from the members of our task force who are very adamant about lessening the curve.”

As of Friday, Latinos make up 36.6 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Kern County, with 10,594 of all 26,961 positive cases. However, the cases of unknown race make up over 50 percent of the county’s numbers at 14,498.

When the unknown race cases are removed, Latinos make up a startling 73 percent of cases in which the race is known. This is about a 2 percent increase compared to when the numbers were last reported by The Californian on Aug. 1.

On Aug. 12, the ACLU of Northern California sent a letter to the Kern County Board of Supervisors expressing its concern about COVID-19 disparities it was seeing across the state. In the letter, the ACLU recommended the creation of a COVID-19 ethnic and racial disparity task force.

Tamsi said the task force consists of subcommittees that will target specific pockets of Kern County’s Latino population that include job sectors, age groups and location. The task force will utilize outlets such as flyers, social media, television and radio to help get the message across in both Spanish and English.

Kern County Board of Supervisors chairwoman Leticia Perez will serve as a chairwoman of the task force. She explained her role as helping the committee understand what resources are available to them through county government.

“A lot of people don’t know how government works,” Perez said. “We’re coming as government experts to help the task force navigate the resources in place.”

She said she also intends to use her credibility throughout east Bakersfield and the Latino community to help get messages across more effectively.

Sala referenced two recent CDC studies that served as inspirations behind the task force. He said one study confirmed that the Latino population was suffering a “significant” disproportionate impact in contracting COVID-19 as well as another that revealed that Latino children had higher rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations compared to other minority populations.

“That was alarming to us so we developed this task force that is unprecedented because there is no other task force like this in the state to address this disparity,” Sala said.

Sala explained that both his and Torres’ high school daughters will take a leading role in the task force at educating young people on COVID-19 awareness through social media.

“We see too often youngsters behaving in reckless behaviors,” Sala said. “These youngsters are gathering together in the fall for various things either if it’s sanctioned by their school or just private parties because they believe they’re not going to get the virus or are not going to get symptoms if they do.”

Torres said that due to his work in the legal profession, he studies COVID-19 often due to the fact he is around sometimes “hundreds” of people in a courthouse, he said. He said he wants to remind people why the current state of the world involves so much social distancing and requires masks.

“Unless people heed the warnings and wear masks and are social distancing, it shouldn't be that bad. But it can easily get worse than better,” Torres said. “People become complacent after time; people are going to let their guard down.”

Other task force members include Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers, Michelle Corson, of the public health department, and Tim Calahan, director of public relations and community development at Clinica Sierra Vista.

Tamsi also said there will be an emphasis on mental health through their community engagement, with the help of Clinica Sierra Vista.

“One area we haven’t seen progress in is mental health outreach,” Tamsi said. “Not only to COVID-19 patients, but to essential workers who work all day and aren’t able to go to a restaurant or go out of town because they have to return back to work and don’t want to get anyone sick.”

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