Grassroots events honoring culture become frontline against the virus

Michelada Fest
Posted at 2:10 PM, Aug 10, 2021

CHICAGO — As of this week, more than 71% of the adult U.S. population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Still, distribution remains uneven across states and ethnicities.

The latest numbers from the CDC show the highest percentage of people who have received at least one dose are Native Americans, followed by Asian Americans, those who are Hispanic or Latino, and lastly, those who are white. Vaccination rates are the lowest among Black Americans.

As the virus surges giving rise to more resistant variants, health care institutions say community outreach to those still on the fence is now the frontline in battling the virus.

At a recent event in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, vendors are preparing a tomatoey drink with spicy lemon, cucumber, and tamarind.

“It's a big Mexican beverage,” said Nina Vieyra, co-executive director of the annual Michelada Fest, which celebrates the spicy beer cocktail known as Michelada. “As the years have progressed, a lot more people, a lot more brands, have made their own spin or version of it.”

At the return of this summer festival, traditional dancing merchandise and drinks are on the menu, but the global pandemic is still top of mind.

“This is a big gathering place,” said Vieyra. “I know a lot of people are nervous about coming out.”

Health care workers here are educating festival-goers on home testing options.

They’re also patrolling the grounds, promoting the importance of getting the shot.

“You need to connect with the people that community residents trust the most,” said Alma Blancarte Mora, a community health nurse at Rush University Medical Center. “Who better than small businesses, local businesses, local vendors that are showing up to festivals like this?”

Blancarte Mora is leading COVID-19 immunization efforts at the festival, but she says they don’t anticipate being flooded by people clamoring to get vaccinated.

“We’re at a festival and we're not expecting to vaccinate hundreds of people,” she said. “But what we are doing is connecting with people, letting them know that we're here.”

A recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that of the total number of adults in the U.S. who have received at least one dose include 61% who are white and 29% percent are Hispanic or Black.

Deythan Del Valle, 24, attended the Michelada Festival and had been thinking about getting the vaccine. He rolled up his sleeve at the beer fest.

“A friendly staff member came to me and said, 'You wanna have it?' I figured it was convenient today to maybe get it and I got it,” said Del Valle.

In some states, the shares of vaccinations going to Hispanic people are increasing. Florida, Nevada, California, New Jersey, Texas, and New York, for example, all saw increases by at least 10 percentage points.

Organizers here say that this is the new frontline in the global fight against the pandemic.

“The majority of all the people that our visit is going to be because they've heard it through the word of mouth at the festival,” said Blancarte Mora.

She says grassroots events like this that honor culture and tradition will help build trust where it may be in short supply.