On March 13, Mufalo Chitam of Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (MIRC) and Inza Ouattara, Catholic Charities of Maine State Refugee Health Coordinator, convened a  conference call with leaders of Maine’s immigrant communities and CDC public health liaisons Kristine Jenkins and Jamie Paul to discuss the current coronavirus pandemic and coordinate effective and timely two-way communication between members of the immigrant communities and the CDC.

The meeting covered current CDC guidelines for public safety, with those in attendance asked to use their communication channels to get the guidelines out to their constituencies as quickly as possible.

The advice is to:

  • Wash hands with soap and water frequently for 20 seconds
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to cleanse hands if water is not available
  • Stay home if sick
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with tissue and then throw away the tissue
  • Avoid travel
  • Call a doctor ahead to report serious symptoms (such as fever, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing) instead of going straight to the emergency room or doctor’s office
  • Practice social distancing as possible – examples: keeping 6 feet from others, especially older adults and people with serious medical conditions; making meetings virtual; avoiding crowds
  • Call 211 or the epidemiology hotline at 1-800-821-5821 if you have questions you would like answered

In addition to general guidelines, the meeting focused on identifying issues that might be of particular relevance to the immigrant population. These issues include:

  • The need for information in translation (Amjambo Africa started posting guidelines in translation beginning March 9 https://www.amjamboafrica.com/ ;the City of Portland has material on its website; Catholic Charities is translating material).
  • Whether masses and services at churches and mosques should be canceled due to the large numbers generally in attendance. (At this time, Governor Mills has recommended postponing or canceling gatherings of 250 or more people, and some congregations regularly serve gatherings of this size).
  • Whether COVID-19 testing will be free for asylum seekers (Ms. Jenkins will get back to the group with the answer to this question, and Amjambo Africa will report out).
  • Whether undocumented people are safe from arrest at hospitals (According to the ACLU, ICE has pledged it will not carry out arrests at hospitals).
  • How people on limited incomes can get adequate supplies of necessary items into their homes, such as food, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, prescription medicine, diapers. (An issue common to all those on limited incomes).
  • How food pantries that commonly service hundreds of people at a time can continue to safely provide nourishment. (Good Shepherd Food Bank is working on a coordinated response. Again, an issue common to all those on limited incomes).
  • How to get information to the elderly, who may not be following the news (community leaders will send out messages via their networks).
  • How to communicate the importance of avoiding handshaking, which is a strong cultural norm for many, as well as how to dispel any myths about the virus (again, community leaders will send out messages via their networks).

The group will reconvene regularly, and Amjambo Africa will continue to update the public. Please also note that we will post updates to our Facebook page and website when we get news of cancellations, postponements, or closings.