The New Mainers Emergency Preparedness Working Group convened its second virtual meeting in response to the Covid-19 viral outbreak on March 16 at noon. Mufalo Chitam of Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (MIRC), Inza Ouattara and Hannnah deAngelis of Catholic Charities, as well as CDC public health officials and many other leaders of Maine’s various immigrant communities joined the call. The group plans to continue meeting throughout the duration of the public health emergency.
The meeting began with updates about numbers of current cases and community spread – as of noon on March 16 there were 12 confirmed cases of coronavirus and two hospitalizations reported in Maine (that number grew to 17 by later in the day) – but moved on quickly to what has been done thus far by the group, as well as what should be done in the future. The goal is to coordinate efforts to get information to local immigrant community members who may not be connected to the mainstream media, might be susceptible to rumor or myth, or might not speak English well enough to understand the complexities of the current situation.
Since the working group’s first virtual meeting on March 13, a great deal of work has been done by community associations, the nonprofit community, and their allies. Information about the virus has now been translated into a wide variety of languages and posted on a number of sites, such as Amjambo Africa, the City of Portland website, and many association Facebook pages. Citing the need to reach people one on one, in order to communicate in culturally appropriate ways, a number of immigrant community associations including the Congolese Community Association of Maine (CocoMaine), and several Somali community organizations, have gone door to door to share vital health information with their members. In addition, Catholic Charities of Maine Refugee and Immigration Services has been reaching elderly and chronically ill clients using WhatsApp and phone calls. They are working on coordinating deliveries from food pantries to these clients.
ProsperityME has been reaching out to the Congolese, Burundian, and Rwandan communities to share information about the virus, as well as about the reason it is important to temporarily discontinue group gatherings. PresenteMaine has made hundreds of phone calls and sent out videos they have made themselves to their community members. The videos address many topics, including school cancellations, the importance of staying home, how the virus is transmitted, what ‘social distancing’ means. Abdullahi Ali created a similar video in Somali and shared it by Facebook. In a five-hour period his video had been watched 881 times. Maine People’s Alliance launched a website, https://mainerstogether.com/, to respond to the crisis. They have created a fund to help people in need and donated the first $25K to the fund. The site is accepting donations as well as requests for help.
The Angolan Community Association of Maine has published information about the Boston asylum office (all walk-in inquiries are suspended but inquiries can be submitted by email, phone, or fax); Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP) is temporarily closed, although urgent phone calls are accepted; Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will not conduct operations at medical facilities, except under extraordinary circumstances, so people should seek medical care they need; the English language program and asylum seeker assistance programs at Hope Acts are suspended.
Questions that were raised at the meeting and still need answering include:
- How will DHHS policies and procedures change in relation to programs for needy individuals and families.
- What resources are available to those without an income or safety net, and how will that information get to the people in need.
- What help will be provided to prevent mass evictions of tenants unable to pay rent.
- How will communication work for those in the family shelter.
- How will undocumented workers who aren’t eligible for government programs be helped.
The New Mainers Emergency Preparedness Working Group will meet with Dr. Nirav Shah on March 17 to ask questions specific to immigrant communities, and Amjambo Africa will update the public after that meeting.