Asha Dere, center, gets help from her daughter, Sundus Abdikadir, in putting on her new mask Saturday at the B Street Health Center in Lewsiton. Her son, Anwar Abdikadir, models his new mask. Packages of masks and hand sanitizer were given out to everyone during a no-appointment testing day. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — The L/A new Mainer COVID-19 task force is taking action to prevent a second wave of outbreaks in the Lewiston-Auburn refugee community.

The task force was formed in mid-March by a coalition of 13 local nonprofit organizations. Its aim is to address the unique problems facing the new Mainer community during the pandemic through a combinatino of outreach, education and support.

On Saturday, the task force held a no-barrier testing event in partnership with the B Street Health Center, encouraging all members of the new Mainer community to get tested. Volunteers handed out kits containing masks, bottles of hand sanitizer and fliers with COVID-19 information.

Residents were able to visit the health clinic to receive a COVID-19 test free of charge, without scheduling an appointment. While not usually opened on the weekends, B Street staff were present on Saturday to administer the tests.

Abdulkerim Said, executive director of New Mainer Public Health Initiative and leader of the task force, said the coalition spent a month planning for this event.

Musbah Aden gets a COVID nasal swab test Saturday from registered nurse Amy Hesby at B Street Health Center’s walk-up window in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Members of the task force reached out to residents of Lewiston-Auburn’s new Mainer community in person and by phone this past week, educating community members and encouraging them to get tested. Volunteers also distributed personal protective equipment and informational fliers outside of B Street, Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Nutritional Center, beginning July 20.

Said said that there is still a lot of misinformation within the community about COVID-19 and testing. Many do not understand the impacts of the virus; others questioned why they should get tested if they didn’t have symptoms.

In one case, Said said he spent 25 minutes on the phone convincing them to come to the testing event.

Reshid Shankol, a public health adviser for the task force and B Street, helps develop community specific health education strategies for the new Mainer community.

He said he was very pleased with the turnout. Sixty-four people visited B Street to get tested on Saturday, exceeding his expectations for the first testing event.

Members of the task force work tirelessly to identify and prevent future outbreaks within the new Mainer community — they have little trust that the Center for Disease Control will help their community if a second outbreak hits.

The new Mainer community was hit hard by COVID-19 in May and June, Said said. Community spread of the virus was apparent, and little governmental support was provided to help mitigate the outbreaks, he said.

Maine’s Black communities have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. Black residents have tested positive for COVID-19 at a rate more than 20 times higher than white residents, giving Maine the unwelcome distinction of having the worst racial disparity in positive cases of any state in the U.S.

Musbah Aden checks in at the B Street Health Center walk-up window in Lewiston on Saturday to start the process of getting a COVID test. At the window, Aisha Geerings collects his information. In the background Matthew Hallwebb, lead patient service representative, and Najma Mahad, community health worker/cultural broker, help with the process. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

 

Shankol monitors the new COVID-19 cases reported for Androscoggin County each day, with particular concern for Lewiston. He hopes to be able to identify outbreaks early in order to warn community members to take extra precautions and prepare for a resurgence of the virus.

New Mainers are particularly vulnerable to community spread, as the refugee community is densely populated, with large families often sharing small spaces in multi-family buildings, he said.

“We don’t want what happened last time to happen again, we don’t have confidence in the state to (help us),” Shankol said. “We don’t have confidence. If the second wave comes, we don’t have confidence.”

Last Thursday, a new outbreak at Marshwood Center in Lewiston was identified by the CDC. Shankol said one of the task force’s first concerns was tracking down the refugees who work at the long-term care facility to prevent potential outbreaks within the community.

Task force members act as contact tracers within their own community. Said said they have the trust and rapport of the refugee community, allowing them to effectively identify people at risk.

According to Shankol, more than 30% of positive cases in Lewiston are from new Mainer residents. Fortunately, he said, much of the community is young and most people recovered.

Three people from the refugee community have died due to COVID-19 to date, he said. The 20-year-old reported to have died last week, the youngest death in the state, was one of them.

“We know everybody who died by name, by family,” Shankol said. “These people are (not a number to us), we know everybody who’s sick.”

He stressed that collective action is necessary to control the spread of the virus.

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