Atlanta doctor works to educate Spanish-speakers about COVID-19 risk, prevention

Veranize Soto says her stomach dropped back in February when she learned an employee at her 3-month-old son's daycare had contracted COVID-19.

Within days, she says, all four of them were ill, especially the baby.

"He stayed sick for a month, almost," Soto says.

The Sotos were careful to isolate in their home and stay away from family and friends.

Still, even now, months later, Soto says, social distancing is really challenging.

"For the Latino community, we're very warm," she says.  "A 'hi' is a kiss on the cheek and a hug.  A gathering is not just of two people, it's mom, dad, brothers, sisters, everybody."

Photo of older man with white hair

Pedro Grande, a 78-year-old Atlanta massage therapist, died of complications of COVID-19 on July 31, 2020.

Pedro Grande's family was also tight-knit.

Javier Grande says his dad, the family patriarch, knew about COVID-19 and was careful.

"He wore a facemask, and he was trying not to go out," Grande says.

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Smiling members of a family sit around a table, at a celebration.

Pedro Grande's family

But the elder Grande, a massage therapist, continued to see a few clients, until he fell ill on July 15, 2020. 

They brought him to the Wellstar Cobb's ER, where, his son says, Grande was diagnosed with pneumonia and sent home with a single prescription.

"By the 18th, he was really bad off, and they had to call the ambulance for him to go back to the hospital," Javier Grande says, speaking through a translator.  "That's when he knew things were turning for the worse."

Pedro Grande battled the virus for 13 days in the ICU, before he died on July 31, 2020.

Older man lies in an ICU bed of a hospital.

Atlanta massage therapist Pedro Grande, 78, died July, 31, 2020 of complications of COVID-19.

He was 78.

Across the city at Emory St. Joseph's, Dr. Ingrid Pinzon, an assistant professor of hospital medicine at the Emory School of Medicine, is assigned to a COVID-19 unit at her hospital.

Since May, Dr. Pinzon says, they have been seeing a jump in younger Hispanic patients, many with no underlying health conditions, coming into her facility with more advanced COVID-19 infections.

"Because they come sicker, they develop more complications, unfortunately," she says.

The available data shows that, while Latinos and Hispanics are not more likely to die from the novel coronavirus, they are more likely to contract the virus.

According to the US Census Bureau, Latinos or Hispanics make up 18.5% of the U.S. population, but the CDC's COVID Data Tracker estimates they make up nearly 31% of U.S. COVID-19 cases.

The numbers in Georgia are similar:  Hispanics and Latinos make 9% of the state’s population, but 18% of cases, according to the non-profit COVID Tracking Project.

Dr. Pinzon says language is a major barrier when it comes to educating Spanish-speaking residents about how to protect themselves from the virus.

So, she and other bilingual Emory Healthcare physicians are working to get the word out, in Spanish, to Atlanta's Latinx community.

On the weekends, Pinzon has been going to food drives and festivals, organized by the Latin American Association and other groups, talking to people about the virus.

"We're teaching them how to wear the masks, how to social distance, how to wash their hands," Dr. Pinzon says.

She urges employers with Spanish-speaking employees to offer COVID-19 prevention tips and signage in Spanish.

"That is the key," Pinzon says.  "We have a lot of communication in English, and we know how to do things in English, but this population need specific guidelines in Spanish, and I think that's the key,” Dr. Pinzon says.  “That's one of the reasons this is happening more frequently in our Hispanic population."

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