While just over 100 people showed up to a COVID-19 testing event last weekend in Santa Fe, health department officials say they will continue to target undocumented and mixed-status people, a group that often needs extra encouragement to get tested.
Once people register and receive a nasal swab early Saturday morning at Nina Otero Community School, they move on to where the Somos Un Pueblo Unido and Youthworks employees and volunteers are ready to hand out Food Depot bags, freezable to-go meals and bright red sacks containing information about the 2020 census. Pamphlets and volunteers both explain rights as a worker during the pandemic, how to register to vote as a naturalized citizen and the path to citizenship. Most of the information is in Spanish and English.
Organizers say a line of cars had slowed to a trickle by 9 am at the testing event, which was the third conducted in Santa Fe specifically for immigrants and their families. A fourth one is planned for 8 to 11 am, Saturday, Sept. 19 at Camino Real Academy. By the end of the three hours, 105 people were tested.
The placement of the testing sites in Santa Fe is deliberate. Both are schools within the two Southside ZIP codes, 87507 and 87505, where a majority of younger people, families and immigrants live and where there is the highest concentration of COVID-19 diagnoses, according to the health department's data.
Around 600 people have been tested during Santa Fe events organized by the state health department, Somos Un Pueblo Unido and other local community groups in order to reach one of the state's most underserved and hard hit populations, according to Somos.
Similar events have also taken place in Las Cruces, Hobbs and Roswell, and they're not the last planned here that will target immigrants, despite decreasing case numbers across the state. David Morgan, a spokesman for the health department, tells SFR officials are not "going to stop reaching out to everyone in New Mexico to be able to make ourselves available for testing."
Ozzie Ortega-Saunders, 21, grew up in Santa Fe, and has been working at Youthworks since February. He helped make the freezable lasagnas the youth are loading into the back of each car.
"It's really satisfying making a difference in the community," Ortega-Saunders says. "[This testing site] is a really good idea. People are getting tested, food and help all in one package."
Somos has assisted the Department of Health in organizing testing sites in both Lea County and Roswell as well as in translating public health orders from the governor's office. Marcela Diaz, executive director of the nonprofit, tells SFR the state approached the organization early on in the pandemic to help the government connect with the Latino and immigrant populations, especially since Hispanic/Latino people make up 44.63% of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico, while whites only make up 14.33%, according to the health department's data.
But Diaz says Santa Fe was a specific target because of the high concentration of essential workers in the city.
"From what we understand, health disparities are really high with particular vulnerable communities, including immigrants and refugees," Diaz tells SFR. "The administration and Department of Health clearly wanted to make populations with high health disparities a priority in proactive testing."
Despite the administration's stated intentions, misinformation and fears may continue to spread in Spanish-speaking communities in the state. Diaz says some people still think insurance is necessary to get tested or that the test will cost money.
According to Diaz, other questions include: Does it hurt? Is it confidential? Can this information be shared with the federal government? Is it free? Is it a public charge issue if I want to adjust my status one day? Do you have to be symptomatic? What does it mean if they ask you
At the outset of the pandemic in March, the department was slow in making Spanish language information available on its website. Morgan concedes the shortcoming.
"We certainly could have done better across the board with all populations… just on a national level collectively, we all could have probably done better with our communication," Morgan says. "Certainly there in March, information was changing very fast and there wasn't really a playbook for something quite on the scale of this. Anytime you have the opportunity to be able to refine your message, no matter what language it's in, and you have the opportunity to do better, more clear and more consistent, and being able to reach as many people as possible, we should always seize those moments."
Diaz says Somos won't pause its efforts.
"A lot of our messaging really is like in our flier: it's confidential, it's fast, it's safe," Diaz says. "You don't need insurance. You don't need to give your immigration status. You will not be charged."