Dr. Felix Aguilar, M.D. Chief Medical Officer at the Chinatown Service Center.

Thousands of businesses have closed due to coronavirus and forced millions of people out of work. There are others, however, who are able to continue to earn a salary by working from home.

David, a Pacoima resident with three children, said he doesn’t have the option to stay at home or stop working. He makes his living primarily by selling fruit and gardening, and must find work even in difficult times.

But unlike many others, David cannot apply for unemployment insurance or look forward to money from the stimulus package recently approved by Congress that could provide up to $1,200 per person. David is an undocumented immigrant, and thus is not entitled to these benefits, according to Jackie Vimo, a public policy analyst at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).

The requirements to receive a check include filing taxes. That means the recipient must have a Social Security number, and must also be a resident, Vimo said. An important note, Vimo said, is the economic bailout “discriminates” against mixed-status families where some members may qualify for the help, but others do not.

“That’s bad news for many families,” she said.

Those with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and under TPS (Temporary Protected Status) can access unemployment benefits as long as their work permits are valid, Vimo said.

Health for Migrants

COVID-19 does not make a distinction regarding immigration status. Citizens, residents, beneficiaries of DACA, TPS or the undocumented may also become sick.

But undocumented people, as they may lack health insurance, often have to think twice before going to a hospital because they don’t even have access to Obamacare’s subsidized programs.

Fortunately Los Angeles county officials offer the MyHealthLA program, which provides free health care to undocumented people. The service offers treatment, testing, and preventive health services in relation to coronavirus.

“[A] person’s immigration status, as well as the ability to pay, does not restrict access to this service,” emphasizes Rigoberto Reyes, executive director for the county Office for Immigrant Affairs.

Reyes explains that an undocumented person with a high fever, dry cough, or other symptoms associated with coronavirus can be tested and treated under MyHealthLA. But before you show up in person to a hospital or clinic, it is recommended to call first and ask how you should proceed.

The MyHealthLA number is (844) 744-6452.

“There are a lot of clinics that are there to help people,” Reyes said, adding that this type of aid “will not be included in the public charge” — a Trump Administration regulation that would deny immigration status adjustments such as permanent residency, citizenship, or even visas for entry into the United States if a person uses public services for 12 months or more over a 36-month period.

Information is Confidential

Reyes emphasized that a person’s medical information “is confidential, and cannot be shared by clinics with anyone but the patient and the doctors themselves.”

His office also offers assistance to those applying for unemployment insurance, loans for employers affected by the closures of their businesses due to COVID-19 restrictions, and centers that offer free food and protection from tenant eviction.

In addition, the public can report scams related to the coronavirus, or price gouging by those who want to take advantage of the crisis.

Some of these services are not available to undocumented immigrants. But if there is anyone in their family who is a resident or citizen, they are eligible.

The number to call is (800) 593-8222.

If you have questions or doubts about whether you qualify for any of these services, call for information, Reyes said. Help is available for the duration of the financial crisis, which is expected to last at least a couple more months. The health emergency could last longer, even if in a diminished capacity.

“Don’t be afraid of how your immigration status would affect you,” he said.

Soap and Water

“One of the predictions is that in the summer, this (virus) will decline and can return with autumn and winter,” predicts Dr. Felix Aguilar, MD, medical director of the Chinatown Service Center.

In other words, although the number of COVID-19 cases might decrease in the hot months, experts worry it could return in the cold months. This is because “the majority of the population has no immunity” to the new disease; even if it recedes in one geographical area, it could return to another part of the world, the doctor said.

This would be something similar to what happened with the Spanish Flu that killed between 40-50 million people worldwide in three waves, between 1918 and 1920.

The big difference between that pandemic and this one — the Spanish Flu, which started during World War I, it mainly killed young people by creating excess fluid in the lungs. That influenza was less virulent among older people because it is believed that they had developed a resistance to it having gone through previous similar pandemics.

However, the Spanish Flu was closer to an influenza than COVID-19, which tends to be more lethal for older people. And it will continue to sicken and kill people until there’s a vaccine available.

There are already several experimental vaccines being developed, but it would take at least a year before the most effective one — with the fewest side effects — is discovered.

At the moment, the best defense is social distancing and washing your hands often, Aguilar stressed.

“Soap and water kills it. It’s not a ‘super’ virus,” he said.

“Soap and water are going to save us.”

Unlike other or regular coronaviruses, COVID-19 is highly contagious and can live on surfaces for a long time. Therefore, it is important to maintain social distancing as it is transmitted through the respiratory droplets that people produce when they cough, sneeze, or while talking.

Although many people have started to wear face masks, homemade mouth and nose protectors — even bandanas or cloths — when leaving their homes as a way of protection, this is not totally necessary. Aguilar says face masks are for people who are sick or healthcare workers.

“Healthy people don’t need to wear face masks,” he said.

Mental Health

Non-infected people should also work at maintaining their mental health, which is just as important as physical health, according to Dr. Lisseth Rojas Flores, assistant professor of Clinical Psychology, Department of Doctoral Psychology at the Fuller Seminary in Pasadena.

Mental health often suffers in times of uncertainty, Flores said, even more so in the midst of the social isolation we are currently experiencing.

“Thoughts are very connected to feelings and how we behave,” Flores said. “We have to recognize that we are under stress …. The mind, heart and soul are connected and thoughts can trigger body reactions such as headache, stomachache, difficulty sleeping and ending up in a downward spiral.”

That is why she recommends maintaining connections with loved ones and family through phone calls or other forms of communication, and if necessary, seek emotional support as despair, concern and worries related to COVID-19 can intensify.

“In a crisis, the most vulnerable are the ones most at risk,” Flores said.

She recommends trying to avoid overloading oneself with news, especially rumors or false reports propagated on social media, and instead seek humor, emotional support and religious practices online so you can get rid of the emotional overload.

“Emotional discharge” can also be easily achieved, Flores said, by walking for 30 minutes daily around your neighborhood (as long as you maintain social distancing), or dancing or exercising with your children at home.

Flores also recommends sun exposure for at least for 15 minutes a day.

“We are like sunflowers” that open with the sun, she explains. “And studies show that being in the sun, seeing the clouds, helps reduce those depressive feelings,” she said. “Taking care of ourselves is part of thriving in difficult times and maneuvering through uncertain times,” she said.

This story was written with the support of Blue Shield Community Foundation and Ethnic Media Services.

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