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Sonoma County holding first Spanish-language COVID-19 town hall

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Sonoma County officials on Wednesday will hold their first Spanish-language town hall during the coronavirus pandemic, part of an ongoing public health campaign to encourage more local Latinos to get vaccinated against the infectious disease.

Health care workers say there’s reluctance among some Latinos to being inoculated, partly due to misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines.

“We really need to get more outreach into the Spanish-speaking, Latinx community,” said Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer. “It’s good that we’re doing this in Spanish to reach more people. We need to get the word out about vaccinations.”

Despite initial work in Latino communities around the critical nature of vaccines, Latinos comprise only 18% of county residents who have received at least one shot, though they represent 27% of the population.

Though partnerships with area community groups and clinics, the county has intensified efforts to encourage more Latinos to get vaccinated.

Eliot Enriquez, program manager for the Petaluma Health Center, said some of the vaccine hesitancy in the county’s Spanish communities comes from myths and misinformation peddled on social media.

Some of these myths include the belief that tracking chips are being injected with the vaccines or that people are being inoculated with dead coronavirus cells. Enriquez said he and others at Petaluma Health Center are usually able to quickly dispel these myths in conversations with Latinos.

“Unfortunately, we see online, especially on Spanish social media, the amount of misinformation regarding these vaccines is through the roof,” he said.

The vaccines on the U.S. market to combat the coronavirus teach a person’s cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response but they don’t contain the live virus that causes COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Enriquez said communication about the vaccines in a person’s native language is key.

For that reason, he said county health officials need to provide more language-appropriate information about the vaccines.

Kathryn Pack, health program manager for the county’s epidemiology team, said the county soon will be collecting data in local Latino communities and neighborhoods hit hardest by COVID-19 to help learn if people there are avoiding vaccinations.

Once the vaccine is more widely available, public health workers will monitor the data “to see if there are particular geographies or demographics that appear to be less inclined to be vaccinated than others,” Pack said.

The county’s push to get more Latino residents vaccinated comes during a sort of pause in the pandemic, with local transmission rates continuing to decline.

As of Monday, the county’s adjusted virus case rate is 3.7 new daily infections per 100,000 residents. The overall positivity rate, which is the share of COVID-19 tests that turn up positive, is 1.7%, and the test positivity in the county’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods is 1.6%.

At Wednesday’s 5 p.m. virtual county town hall on Zoom, English translation will be available. The weekly pandemic response public forum, which is usually handled in English and translated into Spanish, will feature the Mexican Consul General in San Francisco Remedios Gomez Arnau.

Residents can view the event on the county’s Facebook page. The livestream in English will be on the county’s YouTube page.

Linda Hopkins, chair of the Sonoma County board of supervisors, said the Spanish-language town hall “provides a unique opportunity for our Spanish-speaking audience to ask their questions in real-time and receive a response in their native language in real-time.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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