Breanna Reeves | IE Voice
Community advocates, faith leaders and the Riverside University Health System – Public Health Equity Team have come together to collaborate on an initiative to address COVID-19 in the Black community throughout Riverside County and beyond.
On February 3, the collaborative hosted their first orientation to introduce the “Pastors’ COVID Toolkit,” a resource guide to help faith leaders discuss COVID-19 and health issues that impact the community.
During the orientation, Dr. Jennifer Chevinsky, Deputy Public Health Officer at Riverside University Health System – Public Health, discussed COVID-19 treatments and where they are available in the county. The purpose of the toolkit is to gather and disseminate information like this to the community.
The Pastors’ COVID Toolkit includes data on COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, scriptures, testimonials and links to educational sources.
The idea initially arose when Debra Williams, CEO of Building Resilient Communities, and her organization were approached by the Public Health Equity team to join a community-wide effort to educate the Black community about COVID-19. This collaboration also included the Black Chamber of Commerce and SBX Youth & Family Services.
Williams began to recognize that other agencies were conducting similar efforts and had like-minded goals of getting the community tested and vaccinated against COVID-19, including Dr. Regina Patton Stell, president of the NAACP Riverside chapter, who initially partnered with the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine. Together, these organizations decided to join forces and do this work together, resulting in the creation of the African American Vaccine Equity Collaborative.
“It’s just an evolving toolkit. I think we’ll probably have it forever now,” said Dr. Stell. “Pastors need support, too. They’re carrying a lot. And we know that they’re divine and they’re poignant and they’re anointed, but everybody needs a little help.”
The idea behind the toolkit is to equip trusted messengers with the information and resources needed to inform the masses. The collaborative identified the church, barbershops, beauty salons and even DJ’s in nightclubs as being sites where community members dwell and trust to receive information.
“We said no, if we really want to get to the African-American community, we need to go where they go,” Williams explained. “We need to talk to who they listen to.”
The toolkit is not only designed to address COVID-19 as a public health crisis, but will eventually evolve into a resource guide for addressing other health issues that impact Black communities and communities of color like mental health.
The guide will continue to be updated as new information and data is gathered. According to Dr. Stell, the next phase in updating to the toolkit is adding interviews of pastors who will share how they and their congregations have navigated the pandemic and share best practices.
Additionally, the toolkit will address misinformation about COVID-19, where residents can receive services and educate the community on their rights to access treatments.
“I’m really excited that we are doing this work, that we have come together as a collaborative to do it,” said Williams. “And I believe that what we are doing is a movement.”
California mask mandate will expire after February 15
On February 7 California state public health officials announced that they are relaxing some of the COVID-19 restrictions, citing a 65 percent decrease in case rates throughout the state.
Beginning on February 16, the indoor masking requirement will no longer apply for vaccinated persons, but unvaccinated individuals will continue to be required to wear masks in all indoor public settings such as on public transit, in gyms and in other congregate settings.
“Omicron has loosened its hold on California, vaccines for children under five are around the corner, and access to COVID-19 treatments is improving,” said Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer in a statement.
Across the state, the California Department of Public Health reports that 73.5 percent of the eligible population (five years old and older) are fully vaccinated and 82.2 percent are partially vaccinated. While the state reports an improvement among case rates, some counties are still experiencing lower vaccination rates and higher case rates.
In Riverside County, 60.4 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, with 7.2 percent of the eligible population partially vaccinated. While Riverside County has reported a decrease in hospitalizations, from 1,069 during the week of January 25 to 664 as of February 8, the county is reporting an increase in reported COVID-19 cases. The county reported 4,370 new cases as of February 8.
San Bernardino County reports a lower vaccination rate than Riverside with only 56.9 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated. Confirmed COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county have decreased, from 720 as of February 5 to 697 as of February 6.
Despite the state’s announcement to relax the mask mandate, Los Angeles County has decided to keep the mask mandate for vaccinated people, referencing that the county is still experiencing high transmission rates.
Riverside County will follow state guidelines dealing with the mask mandate, according to Jose Arballo Jr., Senior Public Information Specialist for the Riverside University Health System – Public Health.
San Bernardino County does not have a local mask order and will continue to abide by California orders, according to San Bernardino County Public Information Officer David Wert.
Riverside residents can report their at-home COVID-19 test results
Riverside University Health System recently launched a new portal for residents to report their at-home COVID-19 test results.
Now available on their website, residents can use the “Report Your At-Home COVID Test” which will direct residents to a portal where they will register and complete a questionnaire. Community members can also report results for students by using this link. The California Department of Public Health recommends that the public report their at-home COVID-19 test results, even if the results show a negative COVID-19 test in order to get an accurate count of cases.
Last month USPS launched an at-home COVID-19 test website where U.S. households can order up to 4 at-home tests per household, free of charge. While some tests may have instructions regarding how to report test results, others do not.