On a Tuesday afternoon, cars are lined up at a free COVID-19 testing clinic in Santa Ana, put on by the nonprofit group Latino Health Access.
Veronica Juarez is a promotora, a community health worker who is available to answer questions, help with appointments, and provide resources to some of the county's most vulnerable people.
"The other day, I received a phone call with a person that was COVID positive, and he was feeling anxious and scared, and so my role was to make him feel that he wasn't alone, but at the same time provide him with mental health information," Juarez said.
Promotores can help run COVID-19 clinics, do contact tracing, and case management. Many clients that rely on Latino Health Access are undocumented immigrants and frontline workers who are often unaware they can get tested even if they don't have health insurance.
"They need to have access to this information first, so they feel they are not alone. Second, they need to know what they need to do in case they're positive," Juarez said.
She said the clinics are now testing an average of 600 people a day during this surge, twice as many as when she started a few months ago.
Santa Ana has around 18,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections — the highest number in Orange County. It's also a city with one of the largest Latino populations in the region.
"People are more interested in knowing where they can be tested. That's probably more than half of the calls that we receive at the call center," said Loreta Ruiz, call center coordinator for LHA, which she launched almost six months ago.
Ruiz has been busy training promotores on the phones. Most are now answering calls from home, helping individuals with everything from testing to basic needs.
One case manager was helping a woman, someone who couldn't afford to put food on the table.
"After analyzing her case and talking to her, we are going to provide her with gift cards so she can buy food," Ruiz said.
She said the program's key ingredient is trust, resulting from neighbors helping neighbors and finds many who now work at Latino Health Access once relied on the organization themselves for help.
"That's what makes it a lot easier for our community to trust our promotores because they are one of them," Ruiz said.
According to Ruiz, since the end of July, the group has connected more than 21,000 people with essential resources thanks to its dedicated promotores.
"We all have to take care of each, and the only way we're going to stop the spread is being responsible about it."
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