Reaching the Hispanic Community About COVID-19 Through Existing Chronic Disease Prevention Programs

William A. Calo, PhD, JD; Andrea Murray, MPH; Erica Francis, MS; Madeline Bermudez; Jennifer Kraschnewski, MD, MPH


Prev Chronic Dis. 2020;17(6):e49 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Publicly available data on racial and ethnic disparities related to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are now surfacing, and these data suggest that the novel virus has disproportionately sickened Hispanic communities in the United States. We discuss why Hispanic communities are highly vulnerable to COVID-19 and how adaptations were made to existing infrastructure for Penn State Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) and Better Together REACH (a community–academic coalition using grant funds from Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) to address these needs. We also describe programming to support COVID-19 efforts for Hispanic communities by using chronic disease prevention programs and opportunities for replication across the country.


Pennsylvania is home to over 970,000 Hispanic people.[1] Vibrant Hispanic-majority communities can be found across the state in cities such as Lebanon (total population, 25,902; 44.0% Hispanic) and Reading (total population, 88,495; 66.5% Hispanic).[1] Compared with state and national averages, incidence for Hispanic people in these 2 communities are higher for poverty, lack of health insurance, and poor health outcomes as a result of inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption, obesity, and a higher incidence of chronic diseases.[2] In 2018, Better Together, a community–academic coalition led by Penn State College of Medicine, received a Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce the high incidence of chronic diseases among Hispanic people in both Lebanon and Reading.[3] The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has substantially affected our coalition's ability to deliver REACH program activities because many were planned as in-person events or large community gatherings.

The pandemic has also created great fear and anxiety in Hispanic families as many face language barriers and limited access to health care and health information. The Pew Research Center recently found that about two-thirds (65%) of Hispanic adults say the novel coronavirus is a major threat to the health of the US population as a whole, compared with less than half (47%) of the general public.[4] In the same national survey, more Hispanic adults than American adults overall also said that COVID-19 is a major threat to their personal health (39% vs 27%, respectively).[4] Recognizing these challenges, our REACH coalition has strategically shifted resources to actively support the demands of local and state COVID-19 response efforts while still attending to our main goal to reduce disparities related to chronic disease prevention. The objective of this commentary is to discuss why Hispanic communities seem to be highly vulnerable to COVID-19, summarize the Better Together REACH initiatives, discuss how Better Together REACH has adapted program offerings to support COVID-19 pandemic efforts for the Hispanic community, and consider steps that might be taken to replicate these efforts across the country.