News Center for Community Health Partnership & Research

COVID-19: Setting Up Vulnerable Communities for Success

Written by Kim Furlow, communications manager for the Institute for Public Health


Julia López, PhD, MPH, LCSW, an Institute for Public Health Faculty Scholar, joined the Department of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases in February, 2020 as Instructor of Medicine. Since then, she has become a champion of the Latin community, working to help provide mental health assistance and Spanish language guidelines on the do’s and don’ts surrounding the COVID-19 virus.

Dr. López and a dedicated group of Spanish-speaking WashU faculty, fellows and students decided that outreach to the local Latin community, especially during their time sheltering from home, was vital. Videos were led and directed by Dr. LJ Punch and the T STL for PrepareSTL.

The Center for Community Health Partnership and Research is also working with vulnerable communities to help create COVID-19 materials that resonate. 

López remembers it took some time for the Centers for Disease Control to publically release COVID-19 information in Spanish, however, López and the WashU group then needed to discern how to quickly convert the guidelines coming from St. Louis City and County into Spanish and find fluent and available physicians to talk about it to the community.

López and team worked with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other community organizations to establish a Facebook page (@STLJuntos) targeted to the Spanish-speaking community, which disseminates validated and vital information from physicians, local health authorities and offers a heads-up concerning open-air locations in which materials in Spanish and other languages can be safely distributed.

Among other Latin-based media outlets in St. Louis, the group participates in podcasts on different topics related to COVID-19 on Soy De Rancho Radio Online, an internet-based station established by the grassroots organization Latinos en Axión STL.

Now López and team are changing mnemonics to Spanish to reflect their target population for maximum benefit. For example, changing the mnemonic “wash” to “lava” works as a helpful reminder to residents that it’s important to frequently wash their hands. Establishing open spaces where residents can obtain masks, hand sanitizer and other disinfectants have proven to be an effective way to provide resources and validated medical guidance materials to the community, while using social distancing, of course!

“The gaps we’re finding in the dissemination of Spanish COVID-19 information, whether from the state to the regional or to the local level, really highlight the strength of local people,” says López. “People in the community see an issue, then collaborate with local community organizations and the medical community to help provide medically accurate, vitally-needed materials.”

Simply put, López adds, “This outbreak has shown that even though none of us was really quite fully prepared for what lay in front of us, it’s great to see that grass roots developments like this can step in, in a timely manner, when systematic structure may not.”

Julia Lopez right, with Poli Rijos, former manager of the Center for Community Health Partnership and Research (IPH)