The City of Annapolis has launched a new health equity program this week focused on outreach in Hispanic and Black communities, two of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The city is using $56,000 of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding to create “Take Care Annapolis,” which will pay for two coordinators and eight outreach workers to provide health education and healthcare access information to residents.
The program is expected to last until early December.
Among the 6,770 confirmed cases in the county as of Friday, 34% were Hispanic, despite accounting for just 8% of the county’s population. Black residents who, who make up 17% of the county’s population, account for 22% of all cases.
The Annapolis Hispanic and Black population has been ravaged by the virus since the pandemic began.
“If we don’t fix these health outcomes for everybody, we don’t fix it,” said Mayor Gavin Buckley in a statement. “We have designed this program to reach into communities to begin solving the problem.”
Workers will spend about 20 hours per week handing out educational material specific to the coronavirus pandemic such as best practices for social distancing, handwashing and living in close quarters. Their goal is educating residents about available resources when someone tests positive and to reduce the stigma surrounding contact tracing and cooperations with county health officials completing standard procedures on a positive patient, said Mitchelle Stephenson, city spokesperson.
The city began advertising for the positions this week. Anyone interested in participating can email Annapolis Hispanic Liaison Laura Gutierrez at email@example.com.
Hispanic outreach workers must speak Spanish. Priority will be given to those who have some healthcare training, even if it was in another country.
Slightly older data from June provided by the Anne Arundel County Health Department showed nearly 70% cases in Annapolis for which race or ethnicity was know were Hispanic or Latino despite making up just 20% of the city’s population.
Positivity rates among Black and white county residents have dropped below 5% over the past few weeks, a promising sign, Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said during a Tuesday Zoom call with reporters. But the positivity rate among Hispanics remains high — between 12% and 14%, he said.
“That’s massively concerning to us because it means that the efforts that we’ve put into place, not just in the Health Department but throughout county government, have done what they’ve done but we need to go further than that,” Kalyanaraman said.
Part of those efforts is a program called Excluded Worker Humanitarian Relief Fund, announced by County Executive Steuart Pittman earlier this month. It offers 4,000 debit cards loaded with $500 to low-income residents who don’t qualify for financial assistance and who have been directly impacted by the economic effects of COVID-19.
The county has pushed for health equity in other ways, including deploying bilingual contact tracers, increasing pop-up testing in minority communities and translating coronavirus health education videos to Spanish.
A similar statewide plan was floated in April to leverage churches and community health centers to provide information about testing and treatment to Black and Hispanic communities.
The City of Annapolis is partnering with a number of government agencies and non-profit organizations for the program, including Anne Arundel Medical Center which will provide training, George Washington University to help with messaging and outreach and Casa de Maryland to assist with Hispanic outreach.
Other groups include Centro de Ayuda, Organization of Hispanics and Latin Americans of Anne Arundel County, the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis; Grandmere’s Touch, Street Angel Project, People Builders, Community Transitions and the Anne Arundel County Department of Health among others.
Capital reporter Lilly Price contributed to this story.