Contact tracing in immigrant communities is most effective with trusted voices from within

Whenever new information about Covid-19 became available, Ximena Rebolledo León, a registered nurse at Telluride Regional Medical Center in southwestern Colorado, recorded Spanish-language videos on her phone. She'd then post them on Facebook and text them out. Rebolledo León has helped with contact tracing in the small community during the pandemic.

(CNN)Early in the pandemic, Ximena Rebolledo León, a registered nurse at Telluride Regional Medical Center in southwestern Colorado, needed to find everyone who'd been in contact with a sick Latino worker whose boss had told him he would lose his job if he didn't show up.

The man had gone to work and infected four co-workers, all Latinos, with Covid-19 -- so Rebolledo León then had to track down their movements to determine who else had been exposed to the coronavirus in the wealthy ski resort community.
"I ended up calling 13 different families, and I put a total of 85 people in isolation or quarantine," Rebolledo León recalled.
    People fighting the spread of Covid-19 face many unique challenges when doing contact tracing among low-income Latino immigrants in tight-knit communities. Long-standing health care disparities, job insecurity, immigration status, language barriers and a profound distrust of government all complicate the already tricky task.
      Covid-19 has also highlighted how essential those immigrants are to their communities. While Telluride is known for its glitzy resort tucked into the mountains, the place functions because of the workers — many of them first-generation immigrants — within the surrounding San Miguel County. When the medical center implemented new Covid cleaning protocols, it fell to the cleaning staff of Latinos. Grocery stores, restaurants and many other businesses remained open only because their Hispanic workers continued to come to work.
        Many of the people Ximena Rebolledo León was calling as she did Covid-19 contact tracing in the community of Telluride, Colorado, hadn't received even the most basic information about Covid-19 in words they could understand. Rebolledo León gave out her personal cellphone number. "I wanted them to have access to a nurse," she says. "So it became a round-the-clock job."
        "They are the backbone of what makes this town go round," Rebolledo León said.
        That's why Latino frontline workers in Telluride and across the country suffer some of the greatest consequences of Covid-19. Hispanic people in the US face higher rates of infection than the general population. And while they make up about 17% of the population, they have accounted for 24% of Covid deaths.
          San Miguel County had 211 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of Nov. 30, but no deaths. Hispanics account for about 11% of the population of roughly 8,000 but 23% of the cases from March to August.
          Even so, it took weeks as the pandemic unfolded for the county health department to provide information about the virus in either Spanish or Chuj, a Mayan language spoken by many of the county's residents from Guatemala.
          "We were in crisis mode, and I think one of the first things that falls by the wayside is health equity," said Grace Franklin, director of the health department. "It took a little bit of time for us to check back in and say, 'What are we missing? Who are we missing?'"
          So public health officials, like those in Telluride and the surrounding county, are leaning on trusted voices such as Rebolledo León from within those immigrant communities to track and contain the virus, and to help vulnerable people access the care and resources they need.
          "Trust is a huge factor," said Maggie Gómez, deputy director of the Center for Health Progress, a Denver-based health advocacy group. "When you show up in a Latinx community in a suit, and you're knocking on the door and they don't know who you are, they can tell you're not from there — they're going to be pretty suspicious."
          Many of the people Rebolledo León was calling hadn't received even the most basic information about Covi