Various Orange County community organizations are moving into working class neighborhoods hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to stabilize the outbreaks through a partnership with the county Health Care Agency, school districts and UC Irvine. 

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The efforts are being overseen by Latino Health Access, a Santa Ana-based nonprofit community organization that focuses on increasing access to healthcare in working class Latino neighborhoods throughout the county. 

“It’s moving along, it’s very intense,” said America Bracho, CEO of Latino Health Access.

Anaheim and Santa Ana have been hit the hardest by the virus because many residents didn’t have the option to work from home and live in overcrowded housing, making it easier for the virus to spread. 

“The food distribution is moving great. We partnered with Northgate and they are creating baskets for us that we take to the people who are at home in quarantine … or people that have loved one in the hospital and they cannot get out of the house,” Bracho said. 

The group was offering testing Tuesday at Walker Elementary School in Santa Ana for essential workers, people showing virus symptoms and people who’ve been in contact with someone who has the virus. 

Bracho, along with academics from UC Irvine, began pushing for zip code data in April. The data, which is now published daily by the county Health Care Agency, is key to finding out which neighborhoods have the most virus cases and deaths. 

Through the zip code data, Latino Health Access, UC Irvine and the Health Care Agency have been able to target outreach and resources to the hardest hit neighborhoods in OC. 

Anaheim and Santa Ana make up roughly 21 percent of OC’s population, but have roughly 35 percent of the total cases as of Tuesday. The two cities had as high as 41 percent of cases last month, but their proportional share has been dropping as the virus continues to spread throughout the rest of OC. 

One of the keys to stopping the spread, Bracho said, is the ability to do contact tracing, which is tracking where a virus-positive person has been and who they’ve been physically close to since testing positive. 

Abby Reyes, director of UCI’s Community Resilience Projects, said over 400 people began contact tracing training Monday. 

Many of the trainees are from the communities hit hardest. 

“Some of that means training contact tracers to work in their own communities. We’re placing contact tracing in a context that enables our residents, community leaders, university students and Health Care Agency staff to understand the broader context — to address COVID-19 as part of a larger community effort to achieve health through racial equity,” Reyes said. 

The Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance and the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers are also onboard the contact tracing efforts, she said. 

Meanwhile, the virus has now killed 513 people, with 20 new deaths reported Tuesday, according to the county Health Care Agency. Timeframe of the new deaths can stretch back up to eight days.  

Just under 31,000 cases have been confirmed so far and there’s 700 people hospitalized from the virus, including 234 in intensive care units. 

Nearly 367,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people. 

It’s not just the virus the contact tracers will be following, but they’ll also take into consideration a slew of issues like low-paying jobs, lack of health care, transportation issues and  overcrowded housing. 

“If we address the root causes of racial disparities in health outcomes, it often can trace back to disparities in access that are often rooted in institutionalized racism and other policies and practices that over time have created the socioeconomic gulf that we see here in Orange County,” Reyes said. 

“We are trying to create a local culture in which a contact tracer interacting with a community member from their very own community — who would know how to work with the COVID-positive person on the difficult questions of, ‘Oh I’m supposed to isolate now, how in the world am I going to isolate when I live in tight quarters, when my job is at risk if i don’t come back?” she said. 

County CEO Frank Kim previously told Voice of OC that the county will help people quarantine in motels and hotels by paying for their stays. 

Meanwhile, Bracho and the 40 promotores — community health workers — have been working around the clock to build partnerships with school districts and do community outreach, while still providing mobile virus testing. 

“The call center already created a case management center,” Bracho said. “It’s very intense and we are working 16 hours a day to make it happen. And it’s not just me — everybody is working 16, 18 hours, to respond. The school districts have been incredible. The schools are up and ready at six in the morning.”

Bracho and the promotores are working with various school districts to create a comprehensive community outreach plan about various issues causing the virus to explode in Anaheim and Santa Ana. 

“It is super exciting that we are going to be training the ambassadors,” Bracho said. “So we are also building capacity in terms of outreach at the grassroots level, which is outreach we need the most at this moment.” 

Reyes said the approach is known as popular education — a teaching method using the life experience of a person to help further their education to serve the community. 

“It assumes the challenges that any given community faces can be solved by that community, that there’s community knowledge, plus science, that means a health equity approach to COVID-19 response here.” 

Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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