The American Lung Association is committed to bridging health disparities. As part of our COVID-19 outreach, the Buy 2, Give 2 mask campaign allows people to buy two face masks and then matches their purchase by donating two masks to communities in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a part of recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting a local allergist and National Medical Spokesperson for the American Lung Association, Dr. Juanita Mora, who saw her calling in helping the hard-hit Latino community navigate this pandemic.

To bring attention to the importance of masking up during the pandemic, Dr. Mora and her team traveled to Pilsen, a predominately Mexican American community in Chicago, to distribute 500 donated masks to essential workers. “This Latino neighborhood has been one of the hardest hit neighborhoods during the COVID-19 spread,” Dr. Mora said.

They began their distribution at the Pilsen Food Pantry where families in need, along with the food pantry workers, were given masks. Then they proceeded to local businesses and handed out masks to essential workers including waiters, cooks, grocery store clerks, butchers, bakers, construction workers, postal workers and even street vendors selling paletas, tamales and fresh fruit. In addition, they spontaneously offered masks to any families, older adults and children that they ran into on the street.

“As a doctor who comes from this neighborhood, I took great pride in educating my own community on decreasing the spread of COVID-19 and masking-up all these essential workers. It truly reenergized me and reminded me of the love for my community and why I love doing advocacy work, especially during hard times like this pandemic,” Dr. Mora explained.

“One of the most amazing moments was when we entered Casa del Pueblo Restaurant and everyone working there came out to greet us, about 16 workers, all who were wearing the American Lung Association masks. At that moment you could just feel the love, respect and the pride they felt in their work. These essential workers have been the unsung heroes of this pandemic as they have held up the country and as such deserve to be recognized.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the healthcare disparities in the Latino and Black American communities. Only 16% of Latinos can work from home which means they have been working in the community during this dangerous time. Being employed in public roles such as grocery store attendants, factory workers, emergency maintenance workers and first responders or even in delivery services for UPS, Fed Ex or Amazon means they are at higher risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19. 

“The Hispanic community has been hard hit through this pandemic. Even though they too were afraid and anxious, they had to rise above that fear and continue working,” Dr. Mora explained. In addition to delivering masks, Dr. Mora has opened her clinic doors to help and educate these essential workers who had nowhere to turn as outbreaks were happening at their job sites. She started doing antibody testing in her office and treated those patients and their families with symptoms to help prevent them from being hospitalized. “I want their stories to be heard,” Dr. Mora continued. “Many of the hard-working undocumented immigrant community were not offered PPE nor social distancing at their job sites. However, because they feared losing their positions and being unable to feed their families, they stayed on-site and of course got COVID-19.”

She further explained that factors like Latinos being at higher risk for developing diabetes and hypertension, as well as the common cultural practice of living in multi-generational homes, has truly put many Latinos in a compromising position. “Lack of Spanish-speaking healthcare workers or lack of access to healthcare, and a higher rate of being uninsured, are just a few other healthcare disparities that have become apparent during this time,” Dr. Mora continued. 

She hopes to continue being an advocate for the Latino community at the local level and most recently participated in Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker's press conference on the importance of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. She plans to deliver more masks with the American Lung Association and asks everyone to consider donating to the cause. 

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