The Latino COVID-19 Taskforce held a press conference at the Liberty Bell in downtown Bakersfield on Friday to formally kick off its campaign to end the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on the local Latino community.

Co-founders Jay Tamsi, H.A. Sala and David A. Torres all spoke urgently to the importance of the campaign alongside many other task force members.

“No one could have anticipated the effects of this self-isolation, being quarantined and other unfortunate impacts this virus has had on our Latino community,” said Tamsi.

Sala said that beginning Oct. 12, the task force will manage its own mobile testing program throughout the county alongside the Kern County Public Health Services Department and Good Samaritan Hospital. He said the mobile sites will serve rural areas and a calendar with dates and locations for the mobile testing site will be available next week.

Robin Mangarin-Scott, vice president of marketing and communications at Dignity Health locally, pledged that Dignity Health will fund the testing of 2,000 people. She said next week the locations of the free testing will be available on Dignity Health’s website.

“This will be distributed to those who are in the most vulnerable and underserved areas of our county,” Mangarin-Scott said. “That includes areas of a high proportion of Latinos living in those communities.”

The task force’s goals include strengthening Kern County’s COVID-19 testing numbers, focusing on outreach to Latino youth and farm workers, partnering with the Kern County Public Health Services Department, creating a strategic campaign in English and Spanish through all forms of media, providing free mobile testing, assisting businesses and employees and providing mental and behavioral health support, Tamsi said.

“I believe as Latinos, (being) powerful in numbers can achieve what many folks in this country and in this county thought was once impossible,” Tamsi said. “It’s now possible when we work together to flatten the curve.”

Sala pointed out the importance of testing and tracing other possible exposures, saying it will “significantly” reduce the virus in the local Latino community. He said the task force has participated in administering more than 5,600 tests since August.

“We engaged in outreach prior to the Labor Day weekend and as a result, we have been effective — we believe — in avoiding a spike in the positivity rate after the holiday,” Sala said.

As of Friday, Latinos make up 55.3 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Kern County, with 17,872 of all 32,343 positive cases. However, 7,234 of the county’s cases are those where race is unknown.

When the unknown race cases are removed, Latinos make up about 71 percent of cases in which the race is known. This is about a 2 percent decrease compared to when the numbers were last reported by The Californian on Aug. 31.

Sala’s daughter, Jacqueline Sala, spoke at the press conference, explaining the importance of educating young people to the dangers of COVID-19. She is a senior at Garces Memorial High School.

“To help stop the spread among my peers, I have contacted the student body presidents of all of the high schools in Kern County to collaborate with them in reaching the students of their respective schools in a peer-related approach through social media and video platforms to impress upon them the importance of social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands and avoiding crowds,” Sala said.

Kern County Board of Supervisors chairwoman Leticia Perez said at the press conference that the Latino community “owes it to itself” to be serious about the threat COVID-19 is to the American dream for Latino families.

“So many (Latinos) who traversed circumstances that are impossible to comprehend for most of us to come here for an opportunity, be essential in the workplace and be essential in the American fabric. That is who our Latino brothers and sisters are,” Perez said.

Torres also pointed out that anybody could be impacted by COVID-19 and referenced Thursday night's announcement of President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump testing positive.

“We ask you to stay at home. Hey man, it’s OK to be boring,” Torres exclaimed.