The COVID-19 pandemic has been raging on throughout the entire world for the better part of two years now. While there have been massive improvements and advancements made since March 2021, when the first shut downs and stay-at-home orders took place in the United States, we still have a long way to go, and Latinas are stepping up to help us get there.
While Latinos in the U.S. have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic, many have been working hard helping those in need during the health crisis, but also to develop long-term solutions for keeping the virus at bay. Latina scientists have been crucial for COVID research, Latina nurses were some of the first people in the country to receive the COVID vaccine and others have played a central role in developing those vaccines. Today, we want to honor some of the incredible Latina changemakers that have made a difference during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Serena Auñón-Chancellor M.D.
It's #NASA60th birthday, and I’m thrilled to be doing valuable @ISS_research on @Space_Station! 60 years of incredible achievements and discoveries. Here’s to many more years of exploring the cosmos… pic.twitter.com/pdAU1ddONW
— S. Auñón-Chancellor (@AstroSerena) October 1, 2018
Serena Auñón-Chancellor M.D., M.P.H. in a NASA astronaut and Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, but during the pandemic, like so many other people, she found herself needing to switch gears. During the peak of the pandemic in her home state of Louisiana—when hospitals were in great need of healthcare workers—she returned to treating sick patients and training a team of resident physicians, who were all dealing with the physical and emotional impact of the crisis. “It was probably the most memorable internal medicine in-patient service I’ve ever been on. It was very difficult at times because these people were very sick, many of them dying. This is a disease where there really is no standard of care. The research is still up in the air,” she told the LSU Health newsroom, going on to explain that in addition to caring for patients, it was important to also care for herself and her residents so that they could all continue to provide high quality care.
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) December 15, 2020
Latina healthcare workers were some of the very first people in the United States—particularly in COVID hotspots—to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available at the end of 2020. Nurse Helen Cordova was the first person to receive the vaccine in all of California, which has struggled to manage the outbreak from the very beginning. Despite initial hesitancy, Helen made the brave choice. “I remember talking with my coworker the evening before the first dose, and we both were like, ‘You know, if we can do this to protect our families and be an example for our families, then why not? Why not us? And just take that leap of faith. We’ve got to trust the medical community, the scientific community, in this decision and in this process,” she told Salud America.
Monica Mann, Elizabeth Zelaya & Connie Maza
Monica Mann, Elizabeth Zelaya and Connie Maza, are a team of three Latina scientists who have been working on the forefront of COVID research almost from the very beginning. The three women who call themselves “las tres mosqueteras,” work at the Washington, D.C., Department of Forensic Sciences’ Public Health Laboratory Division. They were among the first to conduct COVID tests in Washington D.C., and today, they spend most of their time doing the crucial work of identifying and testing mutations of the virus. “We’re all hard workers here, so we go in, we stay late to finish the job,” Elizabeth told NBC News. “And we’re all the same. We have that same kind of work ethic.”
Milwaukee-based activist and social organizer Luz Sosa teamed up with the Milwaukee Diaper Mission early in the pandemic to help bring much needed supplies to people in need, many of whom had been affected financially by the pandemic, by liaising with companies that could donate things like diapers, wipes and period supplies. Luz has also worked to bring pandemic education and resources to the Latinx community specifically. “Most Latinos are essential workers, they can’t take a day off or say ‘I’m going to stay home,’” Luz told TMJ-4 Milwaukee. “There were many people at the beginning of this pandemic, who were asymptomatic and spreading the virus,” she said. She eventually contracted COVID as well, which only motivated her even more to make sure that Milwaukee’s Latinx community has the access to information and healthcare they need.
A Latina nurse was also the first person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in New Jersey on December 14, 2020. Maritza Beniquez works at University Hospital in Newark, which was considered a hotspot early on in the pandemic. After watching not just her patients, but also her colleagues succumb to the virus, she was one of the first to sign up for the vaccine. “We were disproportionately affected because of the way that Blacks and Latinos in this country have been disproportionately affected across every [part of] our lives—from schools to jobs to homes,” Maritza told KHN.
Jane L. Delgado
As the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, Jane L. Delgado, PhD, MS, was instrumental in launching the organization’s bilingual COVID-19 resources campaign, which uses infographics and social media posts in both English and Spanish to provide information relevant to the pandemic to a wider audience of Latinx immigrants in the U.S. “We must each do our part and support each other. It is more important than ever that we all follow the three Ws, get vaccinated when our turn becomes available, and protect ourselves and each other. If we each do our part, together we will make it through this and be a stronger and more connected community and nation,” Jane explained when the program launched.
We can’t talk about Latina changemakers during the pandemic without giving a shout out to AOC. Yes, helping people is a part of her job, but AOC has gone above and beyond with her COVID outreach efforts. From handing out N95 masks in her district and spreading the word about vaccine buses in New York City to pushing for stimulus checks for more Americans and hosting Instagram Live Q&As to share as much information as possible with all of her followers across the country, she’s been there every step of the way. “There is a clear reason our communities are hit hardest by COVID: the vast, systemic inequalities that were growing pre-COVID are now determining who lives or dies in this pandemic,” she explained on Instagram, illustrating why she supports universal healthcare and Medicare for all, which she believes will greatly benefit Black and brown communities in the U.S.
Nanette Cocero is the definition of a jefa. She is the global president of vaccines at Pfizer, and has led the charge on the pharmaceutical company’s COVID-19 vaccine efforts. Nanette leads a team of 1,500 Pfizer employees and was committed to getting the Pfizer vaccine to people regardless of race, ethnicity or socio-economic status, and her vaccine ended up being the very first to be approved in the U.S. “I feel privileged to be leading the vaccines business at such a pivotal moment – not only for Pfizer, but for the world. Today, in the face of an unprecedented global health crisis, the profound importance of vaccines to society is more evident than ever before,” she explained on the Pfizer web site. “We know that Hispanics and Latinos are among those who have seen higher rates of COVID-19, more severe COVID-19 illnesses, hospitalizations, and increased mortality–so this is personal for me.”
Latinos have the highest rate of COVID-19 of all people in the entire state of Maryland, and a group of women, has been set on helping via the Audelia Community Response organization which was founded by Oneyda who also serves as the operations director and runs thanks to the help of a team of more than two dozen volunteers who collect donations and deliver essentials like food, diapers, hygiene products, cleaning supplies and more, to families in need. Throughout the pandemic, they’ve seen this need rise, particularly in immigrant communities. Oneyda founded the organization after seeing patients of the physical therapy office she worked at on a Univision report about the impact of the pandemic on immigrants in her community. She immediately jumped into action, calling on her siblings and cousins to get the organization going and start delivering mutual aid to many struggling Latino families. “It touched our hearts, because it’s our community. They just needed a helping hand and most of them aren’t getting the assistance they need from the government due to their status,,” Oneyda explained to The Diamondback. Now, Audelia Community Response is continuing to expand, hosting donation drives, enrichment workshops and working to educate and inform the Latinx community in Maryland.