NCW — A move to reopen Wenatchee area schools raised concerns for some members of the Wenatchee Valley Latino community.

People do not feel that the Chelan-Douglas Health District and school districts have a solid plan to reopen safely, said Dr. Karina Vega-Villa, co-chair of the Latinx Advisory Group. They are also concerned about a lack of communication from the school districts.

Outreach efforts by the agencies usually involve technology that some members of the Hispanic community don’t have access to, Vega Villa said.

The Latinx Advisory Group was created in July to help advise the health district on how to communicate with the Hispanic community, Vega-Villa said. It will soon be dissolved and replaced by a new Hispanic group that will advise the Chelan-Douglas Board of Health. Members of the Latinx Advisory Group will serve on that new committee.

A recent series of focus groups by a team of epidemiologists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed problems with communication and highlighted distrust of local officials in the Wenatchee Valley area.

Vanessa Gutierrez, a directing attorney with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, has joined the health district on its Coordinated Policy Group. The group is meeting twice a week for two hours at a time to get updated on the local pandemic response.

She is seeing a change in how the health district is reaching out to the Hispanic community and believes there is progress, but they have more to do, she said.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised and glad to see that the conversations are happening,” Gutierrez said. “They’re really trying to think more broadly and humbly, because I think our medical professionals and our elected officials weren’t doing that before.”

Agencies in the past have translated information into Spanish and acted as if that is sufficient to communicate with the Hispanic community, but more needs to be done, she said. For example, other communities have employed a health navigator, a trusted community person who can connect Hispanics with resources and answer tough questions.

“So, somebody does test positive for COVID, what next, what happens when they can’t get their paycheck or food on the table?” Gutierrez asked.

In particular, a lot of people are concerned that if they do test positive it could impact their ability to work or their immigration status if they’re here on work visas, she said. They need to be reassured that is not the case.

This pandemic has also highlighted inequities in who is making decisions among all governing boards and committees, which needs to be addressed, Gutierrez said.

“But making sure it’s not like, ‘Oh, we checked the (minority representation) box and we’re good to go,’” she said. “But really, approaching decision making in a humble way that you’re not just listening, but you’re acting on what you’re hearing.”

Even though the health district is now making inroads to communicate, it is going to take time to build those bridges, said Gustavo Montoya, a member of the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce's Recovery Council. The chamber created the recovery council to help reopen the economy in a safe manner that complies with Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders.

“I think there is also another aspect that gets mixed into all of this is the many years of perhaps neglect that some people in the Latinx community may feel,” Montoya said.

The health district needs to engage with agencies and organizations that have been involved with the Latino community for years, for example the Community for the Advancement of Family Education, he said. It isn’t enough to send emails or print flyers, health officials need to meet the Hispanic community where they live and work, he said.

He is seeing progress, though, Montoya said, and believes the effort is being made.

“Yeah, we can find blame that’s easy to do,” he said. “But can we work together to make sure that we are doing what we really are supposed to do? That's the challenge.”

Tony Buhr: 664-7123 or

on Twitter @TonyBuhr