While minorities across the nation have been more greatly impacted by COVID-19 than white citizens, Northwest Arkansas leaders are focusing on their outreach to stem the deadly virus’s impact.
Geovanny Sarmiento, VP of community engagement and inclusion with the Rogers-Lowell Chamber of Commerce, said part of the outreach includes efforts to Latinos and Marshallese residents.
“I can tell you specifically, because I am part of a group that is working extensively with the Arkansas Department of Health, trying to communicate and see how we can better manage these sides of our community,” he said. “The numbers are there. It’s affecting disproportionally to those segments of the community that you just mentioned, and it is somewhat alarming, right?”
“We’re doing everything we can to partner with our local Spanish media and they’re helping us tremendously to spread a lot of the directives that I just mentioned as far as wearing masks and taking this very seriously, but also in the other side is the reality, right? A lot of the people in those two segments of the community, the Marshallese and the Latinx community, they’re essential workers, right? And we need them, we need them to keep our, not only our communities fed, but also the rest of the state and the country, right?” Sarmiento said.
He contends there are cultural reasons why these groups are seeing rapid community spread.
“If you ask me why is it that it’s spreading so fast among our population is because this is a silent virus, right? You don’t get any warnings, you don’t get soon enough, if you don’t test yourself, you don’t get a test, you’re not going to know that you’re carrying the virus for at least 10 to 12 days. And that’s how it spreads,” he said.
“Because in both of these communities, traditional, because of our culture, we are people that love to be together with our family, with our friends. We tend to visit each other a lot. So, since we opened our businesses, a lot of people have been a little more relaxed about that, and thinking that now it’s okay to go visit grandma and grandpa and all my aunts and uncles. And, unfortunately, that’s how it spreads so quickly in our Latino community. Because again, it’s a cultural, we tend to be together, and we can’t wait to hug each other. Believe me, it has been very tough for a lot of us not to be able to do that within our community. We are a community. We’re all about touching and hugging and being close to each other,” he added.
You can watch Sarmiento’s full interview in the video below. He also serves on the governor’s task force to look at police reforms. While police force towards African-Americans has been the focus of the George Floyd protests, Latinos are also disproportionately arrested and affected compared to the overall population.