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Multilingual Outreach Workers Share COVID-19 Prevention Tips In Mass. Cities Hardest Hit By Virus

Cristiane Alves hits the beach on Labor Day weekend as part of an effort to spread awareness about COVID-19 prevention in Lynn, which continues to see a higher-than-average number of cases. (Adrian Ma/WBUR)
Cristiane Alves hits the beach on Labor Day weekend as part of an effort to spread awareness about COVID-19 prevention in Lynn, which continues to see a higher-than-average number of cases. (Adrian Ma/WBUR)

During a long Labor Day weekend when a lot of people are relaxing, or maybe hitting the beach, Cristiane Alves was working.

At a beach in Lynn on Sunday, Alves stood out somewhat: mask and gloves on, walking from blanket to blanket between clusters of sunbathers, with an armful of fliers in English and Spanish. The fliers urged people to "Help Lynn stop COVID-19," and also to wear a mask, avoid crowds and get tested.

Alves is a member of one of 15 multilingual teams the state sent into Lynn, Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence and Revere — all areas that persistently report some of the state's highest rates of COVID-19. The state is providing free testing in these communities, as well as others with moderate risk.

The workers began to fan out in those communities over the weekend, setting up information tables at public spots, distributing bottles of free hand sanitizer and passing out informational posters to area businesses.

As for how her efforts have been received, "It's OK," Alves said.

For most people, the initial shock of being approached by a stranger was allayed by offering freebies, she said, such as little spray bottles of hand sanitizer and face masks.

"The free mask, it's the best one," Alves said. "Everybody loves getting some free mask[s]."

Ahmed Zouinka, who lives in Revere and was visiting the beach with his kids, said he appreciates the effort because, earlier this year, he had COVID-19 himself.

"But thank God my family didn't get it. I'm the only one who got it," he said. "I don't know where I got it from. So people have to be aware, be aware of what's going on. Some people didn't believe in it, but it's there."

He said he worries that as the cold weather seasons approach, the risk of getting COVID-19 will only increase.

In addition to public places, Alves and her fellow outreach workers have been stopping by churches with large congregations of people who speak Spanish or Portuguese.

"It’s not that the government is not doing the job. The information is not getting to the people the way that they need," said Renato Trombini, who was coordinating the field team.

Trombini, who lives in Everett, said some politicians — particularly President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — have contributed to the problem by sowing doubt and downplaying the severity of the outbreak early on.

According to the most recent data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, several Massachusetts cities continued be higher-risk areas for coronavirus infections. Based on the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks, Chelsea reported a rate of 29.4 cases per 100,000 people; Lawrence had a rate of 14.9; Lynn reported 12.1; and Revere saw 20.9. The statewide average was just 4.2.

In Everett, where Trombini has lived for over a decade, the rate was 15.9 daily cases per 100,000 people.

"It’s sad because I have so many friends there," he said. "I know almost every commercial place. The employers, I know the employees."

So many are suffering, he said, because of the pandemic. But he hopes, with the right information, that won't go on much longer.

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Adrian Ma Twitter Reporter
Adrian Ma is a reporter for WBUR's Bostonomix team.

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