By Dillon Thomas

GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – Thousands of Latinos in Weld County have been vaccinated for COVID-19 thanks to the tireless work of the Latino Coalition of Weld County. The coalition, led by longstanding Latino residents of the rural county, was tapped by Gov. Jared Polis’ office to promote vaccine equity by taking critical vaccination clinics into the Latino communities.

(credit: CBS)

Stacy Suniga, President of the Latino Coalition of Weld County, said Latinos in Weld County helped supply critical goods to Coloradans through the height of the pandemic. Many Latinos in Weld County continued to work during the quarantine shutdown, helping produce meats and vegetables while often times working in close quarters.

“Weld County has a large population of Latinos. We are agricultural. We have a lot of Latinos coming to work in the fields, to work in the beef plants,” Suniga said.

Many of those workers are on fixed incomes, working hourly jobs which do not pay if they are away on sick leave. At one point The White House, and President Donald Trump, were briefed on an outbreak of COVID-19 throughout the JBS Meatpacking Facility in Greeley. The plant was shut down after an outbreak, largely among Latino workers, claimed the lives of several.

Suniga, and her team, were asked to help get mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics into the rural Weld County communities in an effort to encourage more Latinos to get their free vaccination.

“Our mission is to edify and support Latinos in our community,” Suniga told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas. “We knew there was a lot of fear and misconceptions with the vaccine among Latinos.”

(credit: CBS)

As part of CBS4’s mission to elevate Latino voices every day, especially during Hispanic Heritage Month, the Latino Coalition of Weld County invited CBS4 to follow them as they traveled to multiple small towns for vaccination events.

A large bus, which has been converted on the inside to be a makeshift health clinic, is now traveling throughout Weld County. From large cities like Greeley to small towns like Eaton, CBS4 took viewers along to see how the coalition was effectively reaching those who were initially hesitant to get their vaccines.

Among many blockades some Latinos have to navigate was the issue of transportation. Some in the community do not have the time, or the mode of transportation, to get their vaccines at hospitals in large cities.

“Transportation is a problem for some of the limited income people. So, that bus has been a lifesaver for a lot of people,” said Juanita Martinez Rocha, a Weld County Latina who recently received her COVID-19 vaccination.

Martinez Rocha said the mobile vaccination clinic’s ability to reach remote communities has given a promise of further protection from the deadly virus to many who were initially unable to get their vaccines.

“When this bus comes, it gives them an opportunity to come into their neighborhoods,” Martinez Rocha said.

Martinez Rocha said the mobile clinics also give some Latinos a greater since of protection and safety compared to going into a formal setting like a hospital.

“Some that are undocumented, they feel unsafe going into places like that,” Martinez Rocha said.

(credit: CBS)

Feeling more confident in her ability to avoid severe illness from COVID-19, Martinez Rocha said she was just one of many Latinos in Weld County that are grateful for the mobile vaccine clinics.

Suniga said her team would continue their work to further vaccine equity throughout remote corners of the state, adding they would go to the edges of the Colorado border to get a vaccine to any member of the community, no matter their race.

“This is a virus that won’t discriminate,” Suniga said. “That’s what we want to do. Is make sure all communities, especially our Latino community, has access and the ability to stay healthy through this pandemic.”

Dillon Thomas