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Norwalk reaches out to minority communities, encouraging vaccinations

The Rev. Dr. Richard Clarke, President of the Norwalk Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship (IMF), gets vaccinated against COVID-19, March 9 at Grace Baptist Church. (Courtesy photo)

NORWALK, Conn. — Efforts to get Norwalkers vaccinated – particularly minority community members – will soon include a clinic at the BowTie Cinemas in South Norwalk, Mayor Harry Rilling said.

This would follow a vaccine clinic where Norwalk Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship (IMF) pastors publicly got their shots last week, imploring their community to do the same, and a clinic Tuesday at Bethel A.M.E. Church. Norwalk is holding a town hall Wednesday aimed at the Hispanic community.

“We are working to get as many people vaccinated as possible, as it will help us get back to some normalcy. We have communication through trusted messengers, like the Norwalk IMF, to help with outreach. We are seeing good results from these efforts and we’ll keep at it,” Norwalk Communications Manager Josh Morgan said Tuesday.

There are undocumented Norwalk citizens who want to get vaccinated but are afraid because they don’t have documentation and they think they’ll be turned away, that they’ll get into more trouble by trying to be vaccinated, South Norwalk Democrat Ron Banks said at Monday’s Democratic Town Committee meeting. Council member David Heuvelman (D-District A) told Banks that “everyone who wants a vaccine gets a vaccine, there is no distinction about legal status … there’s no social security number asked for, no information, it’s your age, your birth date and sign up.”

“Yes, there are concerns in the undocumented community,” Morgan said Tuesday. “This isn’t unique to Norwalk but all over the state and country. Those who are undocumented are fearful their information will be misused by the government. We experienced this as well during the 2020 Census.  We want to be clear that vaccine clinics are not asking immigration status or for documentation. Sharing facts and dispelling myths are goals of the Mayor’s COVID-19 Task Force. The Town Hall tomorrow is one component of that, and there will be additional efforts through our community partners and the school district to make sure accurate information is available and accessible.”

The town hall begins 7 p.m. on Zoom and YouTube, and will be presented in Spanish, with live English, Haitian Creole, and American Sign Language interpretation. Watch live by visiting bit.ly/17deMarzoTownHall More information is here.

A similar town hall held March 3, aimed at the African American community, has 101 views.

“We are working very diligently to try to reach communities of color who are seriously underrepresented in the vaccine administration, thus far,” Rilling said Monday. Bow Tie Cinemas will be a perfect location and “We’re also working with the Community Health Center, to use their mobile vans to bring the vaccine out into the some of the day workers and other places where people would not likely be able to get out and get the vaccine on their own.”

Last week’s clinic at Grace Baptist Church drew 100 appointments for vaccines, Rilling said, at the March 9 event. Among those getting shots was the Rev. Dr. Richard Clarke, IMF President.

“We are living in a time where the deadly COVID-19 virus is infecting our people at an extraordinary rate. Our people are hurting, economically, socially, medically. Because of this, we are faced with a serious dilemma. Minorities are the most likely to contract and even die from Coronavirus… I’m proud to be among my fellow pastors and ministers, of dominantly minority congregations to be vaccinated today,” Clarke said.

Mayor Harry Rilling gets his second COVID-19 vaccination, Tuesday at Bethel AME. (Courtesy photo)

Rilling got his second shot Tuesday at Bethel AME.

Banks asked Monday if there could be an “open clinic,” where people just show up and get vaccinated without an appointment. Heuvelman mentioned the federal government’s promise to offer one system by which people can get appointments and said Connecticut is using the VAMS system, but Hartford Health has its own system and so do the drug store chains, Walgreens and CVS.

Appointments are necessary.

Morgan wrote:

“Please remember the Health Department is one of many providers in Norwalk and the surrounding area administering the vaccine. Most are using VAMS, but as you mentioned, private pharmacies have their own system. Appointments are in place to allow for proper vaccine allocation and distribution. Once vaccines are out and thawed, they have to be used within a certain number of hours. Appointments ensure there are arms there to receive a shot, and nothing gets wasted.

“Also, we’ve begun using the Health Department online appointment system for some clinics as well, like the one this Saturday, March 20, because it is available in multiple languages (VAMS is English only) and our system is quite frankly more user-friendly. In fact, someone commented on Facebook today that it seemed TOO EASY to make the appointment and wanted to confirm it actually went through!

“Also, it is important to note that vaccine hesitancy is perhaps one reason why Communities of Color may not be getting vaccinated at the same rate as people who are white. There is also barriers to vaccine access that need to be addressed. We are mindful of the digital divide, language barriers, and other systems in place that may prevent someone who is willing to get vaccinated from actually being vaccinated. Again, this is a work in progress through the Mayor’s Task Force and our community partners, and we are planning more community-based clinics, outreach, and education campaigns in the days, weeks, and months ahead.”

 

 

“The vaccine is FREE. There is no out of pocket costs to get vaccinated,” Morgan wrote. “Insurance information is collected to cover administrative fees, but it is not required. If someone does not have insurance there is still no cost. People who get vaccinated are not going to receive a bill. Legislation makes the vaccine available for free.”

Residents also need to be wary of scams.

“There is no fee available to pay to get to the front of the vaccine line, or receive a stimulus check faster,” Morgan wrote. “We will not call someone and ask for their credit card info or social security number to allow them to schedule an appointment. Criminals are taking advantage of the demand for the vaccine, and now stimulus checks, so residents need to remain vigilant and not provide their personal information to a random caller. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

The concerns come as Norwalk’s infection rate drops.

  • The test positivity rate from Jan. 17 to Jan. 30 was 8%, the Feb. 5 update said.
  • The test positivity rate from Feb. 28 to March 13 was 4.8%, Tuesday’s update said.
  • For the one-week period between Jan. 24 and Jan. 30, there were 55.8 cases per 100,000 population, the Feb. 5 update said.
  • For the one-week period between Feb. 7 and 13, there were 29.8 cases per 100,000 population, the Feb. 16 update said.
  • For the one-week period between Feb. 28 and March 13, there were 26.4 cases per 100,000 population, Tuesday’s update said.

There were 28 new positive cases reported Tuesday in Norwalk, bringing the total positive reported cases to 9,843. Rilling last reported deaths on Feb. 24: two people had passed away, one who was in his or her 60s and one who was more than 80 years old. There have been 100 deaths of people more than 80 years old attributed to COVID-19.

“While our case numbers are moving in the right direction, please remember it is not at zero. There is still transmission happening in Norwalk, and people can contract COVID-19, get sick, and in some cases die,” Rilling said in the Feb. 24 update.

In Tuesday’s update, Rilling said, “I know some might feel eager to celebrate tomorrow like years past, and while local health conditions are getting better, we are not out of the woods just yet. Please continue to use caution and remain vigilant. If you choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, please do so responsibly, and know that we will have enhanced enforcement to ensure residents and businesses are following proper guidelines.”

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