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New OC task force makes coronavirus testing more accessible to Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders

For the past two months, Ellen Ahn has been helping a Korean American family in Orange County where none of the adult members speaks English.

Ahn, who leads a federally qualified health clinic in a Buena Park that serves the sizable Korean American immigrant population in the region, said she was able to see, through that family, what it’s like to deal with the coronavirus pandemic as a non-English-speaking immigrant.

“I could see the fear in their eyes,” said Ahn, executive director of Korean Community Services. “I could see what life is like during the pandemic for people like them who don’t know the language or how to get the resources they need.”

Culturally competent services

On Friday, Oct. 16, the Orange County Health Care Agency, county supervisors and representatives from several grassroots organizations countywide who represent Asian American and Pacific Islander communities introduced a new program called the API Testing Strike Team, which will offer countywide coronavirus testing three times a week now through Dec. 31.

Funded largely by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, the partnership offers culturally sensitive, in-language education and support, referral to resources, testing, and follow-up support. That includes mental health services and food assistance.

The program even helps to find temporary housing for those who test positive for the virus, should they need to quarantine or isolate themselves. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders account for more than 20% of the county’s population.

So far, the task force has been setting up pop-up testing centers in locations that are familiar to community members, such as churches, temples, city halls and grocery stories, said Alisi Tulua, program manager for the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance. For example, on Oct. 26, a testing center will be set up at the Santa Ana United Methodist Church, which is a Tongan congregation.

“Setting up these centers in familiar locations increases the likelihood of people getting tested,” she said, adding that the groups also have navigators to help the elderly who may not have access to the internet.

Just in the one week that the centers have been open, more than 700 have been tested, Tulua said. While the testing centers do accept insurance, those who don’t have insurance also can get tested at no cost, she said. And, these centers are open to everyone.

The task force includes several Orange County nonprofits that serve Asian and Pacific Islander communities, including Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese and other South Asian populations. The pandemic has disproportionately affected Asian American and Pacific Islander populations across Southern California and the rest of the nation.

Amplified health care inequities

County Supervisors Andrew Do and Doug Chaffee, who helped lead the collaborative effort, said during a virtual news conference Friday that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted inequities in health care, especially in communities of color.

“Our residents, especially from racial and ethnic minorities, are hesitant to seek out care because of language barriers, lack of transportation or simply a distrust of government,” Do said. “These are all challenges we must overcome together.”

The Cambodian community has been experiencing a much higher rate of coronavirus infections than the rest of the community, said Vattana Peong, executive director of Cambodian Family Community Center in Santa Ana.

“There are definitely barriers in our community relating to testing, language and navigating the health system,” he said. The Cambodian population in Orange County is largely concentrated in Santa Ana, Anaheim and Costa Mesa.

These groups have been catering to the needs of ethnic minorities in Orange County for decades, but it took a global pandemic to shine a light on the glaring inequities in health care access, said Tricia Nguyen, CEO of Southland Integrated Services, which serves the Vietnamese community.

“We’re a conservative community where one barrier is lack of understanding that this is a serious illness,” she said. “A lot of older Vietnamese people don’t drive on the freeway. So they need services closer to home.”

The county’s Health Care Agency will continue to pursue funding to address health care inequities in communities of color, said Dr. Clayton Chau, who heads the agency. He anticipates there could be another pandemic in the next 20 years.

“If we don’t take this opportunity to build infrastructure and be ready for the next pandemic,” he said, “then we haven’t learned our lessons from this experience.”


Source: Orange County Register

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