Latino mom says educating community key to surviving COVID-19 pandemic

  • Merced Alfaro, a stay-at-home mother of three from Round Lake, volunteers through St. Joseph Catholic Church in Round Lake to deliver meals and groceries weekly to the homebound, sick or elderly. She also counsels Latino community members about the importance of safeguarding their health.

    Merced Alfaro, a stay-at-home mother of three from Round Lake, volunteers through St. Joseph Catholic Church in Round Lake to deliver meals and groceries weekly to the homebound, sick or elderly. She also counsels Latino community members about the importance of safeguarding their health. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/12/2020 8:35 AM

With Latinos being infected by COVID-19 at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group, educating the community about how to live with the pandemic is key to surviving it, says Merced Alfaro of Round Lake.

A stay-at-home mother of three, Alfaro volunteers through St. Joseph Catholic Church in Round Lake to deliver meals and groceries weekly to the homebound, sick or elderly. She also distributes personal protective equipment and counsels Latino community members about the importance of safeguarding their health. She teaches adults and children how to practice proper social distancing, sanitizing hands and wearing masks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's very difficult for me staying home doing nothing," Alfaro said. "There are many families in my community who need food, who need help."

Alfaro's husband and three children work outside the home, like many Latinos working minimum-wage jobs or who are essential workers.

"We are a poor community. Our community is scared, but we need to go out to work ... they need to pay bills," Alfaro said. "We need to learn how to live with this situation."

Transit upgrades:

Mary Beth Canty
Mary Beth Canty -

Public transit needs a bold transformation to increase ridership and better address the needs of low-income residents and minority communities in the suburbs, says Mary Beth Canty, an Arlington Heights village trustee recently appointed to serve four years on the Regional Transportation Authority Board.

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"I hope to be a voice for those communities," said Canty, who is biracial. "We need to completely re-envision all of our (rail) crossings relative to our community members (who) are disabled," she said, expressing concern about accessibility and safety.

The 16-member board is responsible for financial oversight, funding, and regional transit planning. Four of its members are selected by the suburban Cook County Board of Commissioners.

"We need a lot more areas of service," said Canty, who added using mass transit to commute between the city and far Western suburbs and within the suburbs is "challenging" at best, often taking several hours.

Canty said the RTA should measure success by customer satisfaction rather than tickets sold, and upgrades to Pace Suburban Bus, Metra, and Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) routes must be made as a "cohesive system."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Race inclusion:

Arlington Heights village leaders are considering hosting a series of virtual discussions this summer about being more inclusive and embracing diversity.

"We're actually hoping to hear from our community," said Canty, the only person of color on the village board. "How can we make sure that we actually are a community that welcomes and embraces diversity and inclusion?"

Canty, who serves as co-chair of programming for the League of Women Voters of Arlington Heights, recently participated in a league panel discussion about the experience of being a minority in the suburbs.

"I'd like to see more diversity in hiring at the village level and the school level," said Canty, who serves as vice president of Olive-Mary Stitt Elementary School parent-teacher association and on Arlington Heights District 25's Cultural Awareness Committee. Attracting more minority police officers is among the village's goals, she added.

COVID-19 infecting young:

The Lake County Health Department is reporting an upward trend in new COVID-19 cases among teenagers and young adults, many of whom attended social gatherings with friends in the past two weeks.

Since June 25, cases reported among Lake County residents under age 30 have been rising, while remaining steady in the general population. As of July 11, 10,260 Lake County residents tested positive for the disease and 408 had died from it, health department data shows.

Statewide, Illinoisans in their 20s and 30s constitute about one-third of those infected with the virus, Illinois Department of Public Health data shows. Deaths from the virus in those age groups are 2% of the state's total.

"Youth are just as likely as adults to get and spread this virus, and your risk is higher if you and those you spend time with are not following social distancing, hand-washing, and masking guidelines," said Dr. Sana Ahmed, medical epidemiologist for the Lake County Health Department. "We ask that everyone continue to take these risks seriously and contact the health department if you think you have been exposed."

Mobile testing site:

Three athletic camps run by Lake Zurich High School had to be shut down because students tested positive for COVID-19. Free coronavirus testing is available today at the school.
  Three athletic camps run by Lake Zurich High School had to be shut down because students tested positive for COVID-19. Free coronavirus testing is available today at the school. - Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer, 2018

A state-run mobile COVID-19 testing site will be stationed this Sunday and next Sunday, July 19, at Lake Zurich High School in response to multiple cases of the virus identified among athletic camp participants or youth attending social gatherings.

The Lake County Health Department is working with Lake Zurich and Vernon Hills high schools. Lake Zurich High has suspended all athletic camps and asked participants of poms, football and baseball camps to self-quarantine for 14 days; an individual participating in athletic activities at Vernon Hills High tested positive last week. Investigations and contact tracing are underway at both schools.

"We are recommending that any Lake Zurich community members who may have been exposed, regardless of age, get tested," said the Lake County Health Department's Ahmed.

The free testing is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the parking lot of Lake Zurich High School's Performing Arts Center, 300 Church St. Results will be provided by phone in 4 to 7 days. If experiencing symptoms, call a health care provider or the health department's Communicable Disease program at (847) 377-8130. For additional testing sites, visit dph.illinois.gov/covid19.

• Share stories, news and happenings from the suburban mosaic with Madhu Krishnamurthy at mkrishnamurthy@dailyherald.com.

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