The New Mainers Emergency Preparedness Working Group has met four times since the coronavirus emerged as a crisis in Maine two weeks ago. The fifth virtual meeting of the group is March 27, with plans to continue meeting regularly throughout the duration of the public health emergency, which at this point stretches into the future with no known end date in sight.
As of March 26, there are 155 cases of Covid-19 in Maine, which is an increase of 13 cases in one 24-hour period. Twenty-two individuals are hospitalized, and the average age of those identified with the illness in Maine is 55. Community transmission is now occurring in York and Cumberland counties. In Maine, community transmission is defined as at least 10 cases in one county, with 20% of those sick having had no known association with someone with the virus, nor having traveled to an area where Covid-19 is widespread.
The New Mainers Emergency Preparedness Working Group includes a growing list of leaders of Maine’s various immigrant community associations and their nonprofit allies. Mufalo Chitam, Fatuma Hussein, and Inza Ouattaro have all taken leadership roles in the group.The purpose of the working group is to help ensure that the needs and questions of New Mainers are heard and addressed during the health crisis.
News of the pandemic’s gravity took some time to reach all members of immigrant communities in Maine because some do not follow standard media outlets. Realizing early on how important it was to bring all Mainers up to speed without delay, however, the working group convened for the first time March 13. Following that first meeting, different members of the group facilitated the production, translation, and widespread dissemination of videos, fact sheets, and articles relating to the pandemic. Those materials are housed in a central folder and posted on a number of sites, such as Amjambo Africa’s website, the City of Portland Office of Economic Opportunity website, and numerous association social media sites. Religious leaders and others have also been circulating the material through WhatsApp and other networks.
In addition to getting multi-lingual material out to the public, the working group has been collaborating to identify issues needing attention, as well as resources to help people in this time of confusion and stress. Like other groups of Mainers, immigrant communities include some individuals and families that live on very limited incomes, and the sudden and unexpected loss of jobs, together with the need to purchase necessities in bulk – including cleaning supplies – is beyond the means of many. Further, many immigrants either have limited English, or no access to computers to fill out all the forms needed for accessing assistance now that offices are closed to the public.
Among the many questions circulating widely among immigrant communities is how non-English speakers can get assistance filling out unemployment insurance applications, how to handle landlords who want to evict for non-payment of rent during this time, and where to find food and cleaning supplies when paychecks are no longer coming in.
If you have a question you’d like some help with, please email [email protected] and we will see if we can find the answer for you.