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‘It’s a failure’: Roanoke City leaders promise to support minorities hit hard by COVID-19

Minorities, particularly in the Latinx community, account for the most cases

ROANOKE, Va. – The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately affect minorities and that’s the case in our corner of Virginia.

On Wednesday night, Roanoke City leaders hosted a socially distanced forum to find a solution. And while they may not have gotten an answer, the group feels they made progress.

Councilwoman Trish White-Boyd said the issue is alarming, and can’t wait any longer.

“We get the reports weekly, and we see the numbers. I was concerned about the numbers and I said ‘I don’t know what we’re doing but we’re not doing something right,‘” White-Boyd said.

With the problem identified, they worked toward a solution. The group received updates from VDH communicable disease director Dr. Molly O’Dell in both English and Spanish via a translator.

“If we’re having this kind of a disparity, it’s a failure. I know that I’m not personally responsible, we’re all collectively responsible and it’s such a complicated issue,” O’Dell said.

Together, they identified a major reason for the problem. The Hispanic community doesn’t trust that testing is private, and fear that information being shared with immigration officials. They also look to sources other than traditional media for updates.

Local business owner and member of the Latinx community, Kat Pascal, suggested a task force and said she was pleased with the discussion.

“We want to start working immediately, so absolutely this is effective and it’s refreshing that the city wants to do something and they want to focus on the Hispanic community and they’ve called upon city leaders,” Pascal said.

Roanoke City Manager Bob Cowell liked that idea, and asked for suggestions to better reach marginalized populations. The city also said identifying city employees who also speak Spanish and can help with the cause will be a major step forward.

“We’re willing to do whatever it is that they feel we should do in order to make people feel comfortable getting the testing. We’re ready, we don’t really have the plan, but we have a plan,” White-Boyd said.

For more information, contact the Roanoke City Office of Community Engagement.


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