USC Environmental Health Centers

Current news, events and research projects of the Environmental Health Centers based at USC

January 15, 2021

Engaging Frontline Communities in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

USC Environmental Health

The COVID-19 crisis is disproportionately impacting communities of color. As these communities already face multiple environmental burdens, divestment and low-wages, the impacts of pandemic are felt more acutely. Locally, one of these communities is South Los Angeles. In response, we partnered with Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA (PSR-LA) and community health promoters (promotoras) from Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, and Strategic Concepts in Organizing & Policy Education (SCOPE), to develop a popular-education and community-centered approach to build health literacy around COVID-19.

In response to the insights from the promotoras and our community advisory board, we expanded our collaborative work around green cleaning to address concerns of COVID-19.  First, women working in the cleaning industry who sought recommendations around cleaning practices that are safe for their health and assure that cleaning practices meet COVID-19 disinfecting guidelines. Specifically, evidence-based information was requested around safe cleaning and disinfecting practices that did not include Clorox bleach, a known product that can trigger asthmatic episodes.

Secondly, our advisors identified the need for community-relevant content around best practices when a household member is positive for COVID-19.   As there is a housing crisis in Los Angeles, many families and households are unable to isolate a member in a separate room. Practical tips on how to live with a person who has coronavirus in a crowded living situation is essential. In response, we developed collaborative bilingual infographics shared in print and via social media.  Additional information provided on the infographic resource page.

“For me it was important to be part of this workgroup to demonstrate one more time to myself and to our community that health promoters are important for our communities. I did love to be a part of such a great group and to be able to help others and to provide my ideas …. I hope to keep being educated so I can educate people. On the topics about mental health, about cleaning, about now with COVID, all these topics. That's what I want to continue in my future..”

- Delmis Lorenzo, Health Promoter Team member (Esperanza CHC)

With program funding provided by the Keck Foundation, our team developed and implemented a series of 3 bilingual workshops to address these issues: Green Cleaning during COVID-19, Health; Well-being During the Pandemic; and A Path to Just Recovery. Throughout the program, a leadership team of 3 community health promoters provided valuable input and direction to assure workshop content and materials were relevant to the community audience.

“Me encanta esto de hacer el bien a la comunidad por eso estoy incorporada en esta organización que estamos aquí colaborando con la comunidad. Además aprendí bastante de él COVID-19 verdad porque en esta época de pandemia tenemos que estar todos preparados…. Es algo muy útil que hemos aprendido y entre más nos unamos a conocer y expandir nuestros conocimientos creo que semos lo bien a la humanidad. Eso me encanto de estar conviviendo con ustedes y compartiendo y trabajando al mismo tiempo con esta organización. Gracias.”

-Lupita Rivas, Health Promoter Team member (SCOPE)

Translation: “I love doing good for the community, that is why I am part of this organization, where we are here collaborating with the community. I also learned a lot about COVID-19, during this pandemic we all have to be prepared. It is something very useful that we have learned and the more we join to know and expand our knowledge I believe that we will be good for humanity. I loved being with you and sharing and working with this organization. Thank you.”

Interactive workshops were conducted virtually via Zoom and were attended by community members from across South LA including organizations that assisted in recruitment: SCOPE, Esperanza, IDEPSCA, and PSR-LA. Workshop attendance averaged over 50 people each. Twenty-seven South LA residents completed the entire series and were recognized as Community Health Ambassadors. 

The workshops were enhanced with resources made available online (web and social media) and in print including infographics addressing themes of COVID-19 inside the home, along with a video that describes how to make COVID-19 safe hand sanitizer.

“I learned that so many people are going through mental depression because of the pandemic. They are feeling lonely and don’t know how to cope…. I learned that the community, our community, really wants to be involved in learning how to protect themselves from this COVID. So by having these workshops it is really good for our community and the people surrounding our homes.”

– Veronica Wilkins, Health Promoter Team member (SCOPE)

Future collaborations in this work will include information about COVID-19 vaccines as well as additional mental health and well-being resources as these were key issues for residents that participated in the three workshops.

Project infographics and resources:

Our COVID-19 resource page can be found here.

Environmental Health Disparities Map of Los Angeles: Our MADRES Center researchers developed this interactive StoryMap that sheds light on environmental health disparities along racial and ethnic lines, susceptibility, built environment and COVID-19 spread in communities around Los Angeles country where participants of the USC MADRES study live.

Funding for this work was provided by a grant from the Keck Foundation and NIH P50MD015705.

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