WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The latest reports from the medical examiner's office reveal who are the youngest victims of COVID-19 in Palm Beach County.
Almost 80 people under the age of 60 have died of COVID-19 in Palm Beach County since the pandemic started, and 90% of those deaths are patients who were African American or Hispanic.
Glorivi Andujar of West Palm Beach died at 39 years old in April, just 10 days after her 41-year-old brother Alex died, both from the coronavirus.
"She was afraid to die and she fought to her last breath not to die," said Stephanie Cosme, Glorivi's pastor and lifelong friend.
Since her friend's death, Cosme said she's offering spiritual support to 37 other Hispanic families fighting COVID-19.
"There are two things that kind of stick in my mind as a common denominator that keeps on coming up more and more every time I see a new patient, and that is minority and obesity," said Dr. Leslie Diaz, an infectious disease specialist.
The most recent data from the medical examiner's office in Palm Beach County shows that out of 697 COVID-19 deaths, 77 were people under the age of 60. 69 of those 77 were African American or Hispanic.
"We tend to see diseases that put you at risk for COVID-19 in that population such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity," said Dr. Olayemi Osiyemi. "Most of these folks work in the front lines. They work in factories, in construction, landscaping."
Diaz said culture is also a factor.
"As you know, us Hispanics, we like to congregate, and when we do it's 10 people or more," Diaz said.
All things that can be remedied, the doctors said, with education. But it has to reach minority communities.
"Enjoy family, enjoy your loved ones. We're at a moment where tomorrow is not promised," Cosme said.
The Glades region, home to some of Palm Beach County's must vulnerable residents, has been very hard hit by COVID-19. My highest priority from the start has been to ensure the county and our partners are honed in on reaching these residents through a multitude of strategies designed to reduce the virus's spread and save lives.
Outreach is one of the most powerful tools we have to encourage mask-wearing and social distancing. At government testing sites, we provide informational resources in several languages and distribute masks. Furthermore, the county and CareerSource are hiring community health workers to conduct outreach and education, distribute PPE and support contact tracers.
To help facilitate mask-wearing in the Glades, we prioritized mailing masks to homes in the county's hardest hit zip codes first. To ensure access to testing, the county has established multiple options in the region, including at Lakeside Medical Center, pop-up sites and in the home for those who cannot travel.
Other county strategies to combat COVID-19 and its effects in the Glades include providing PPE to Glades medical and assisted living facilities, municipalities and farmers, and working with our partners to provide food to nearly 20,000 households, resulting in some 176,000 meals distributed.
Lastly, the county and the Sheriff's Office continues to enforce state and local emergency rules in terms of large crowd gatherings. By shutting down these types of events, we hope to curb the spread.
And a final note: One of the biggest hurdles we face is a lack of access to health care for so many of our families. Florida continues to fail the Glades and similar communities across Florida by continually refusing to expand Medicaid. Without assurances that health care is affordable, too many families will delay medical care for fear they cannot afford it. By the time they arrive at the hospital, they are in critical condition. Florida needs to do better.