Kathy Burgos has a dozen blue bags hanging from her arm as she walks the hot streets of Miami’s Allapattah neighborhood. She’s on a march with other Miami-Dade County employees, helping bring masks, gloves and education to one of the state’s hotspots for COVID-19 cases.
“Every day we’re hitting at least 70 homes,” she says. “I know today we have a lot more homes to hit, around 140.”
The effort is part of Miami-Dade County’s three “SURGE” teams — an abbreviation for Strategic Unified Response to Guideline Education. The new teams have been deployed to Allapattah and Little Havana in Miami, and to the city of Homestead.
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Burgos is the division director of operations for the Miami-Dade Juvenile Services Department, but her day-to-day work has been shifted to respond to the pandemic.
"But we're used to working in the community," she says. She spots a mother walking her baby and stops her to talk about the work the county is doing. At the end, she gives the mother two bags full of masks and gloves.
“Thank you so much,” the mother says, “this was really needed.”
The Allapattah neighborhood has been identified by the county as one of the most concentrated areas of COVID-19 infections. The area is mostly working class with a large population of Spanish speakers — and an especially large Dominican population.
Patricio Pineda is happy to get a few bags for his family. Pineda is a motorcycle and kitchen appliance repairman, and says the masks he has keep getting too dirty to wear.
“I needed this,” he says in Spanish. “So now what I’ll do is I’ll wear this one while I’m working and wear this [other] one when I’m doing other things. You have to take care of yourself, because this thing is for real.”
The cost of masks has become a burden on its own, says Yvette Velez.
“For each one they’re charging from two to three, four dollars each and every time you go out you have to throw it away,” she says. Out of her entire family, only her son has a job at the moment. “So this is very important,” she says, holding the bags brought to her by the county. “It’s a help.”
Andres Cantey says almost everyone in the neighborhood knows someone who has tested positive. One of his neighbors got it during the beginning of the pandemic.
“She quarantined herself for two weeks,” he says. “We didn’t find out until a month afterward that she told us. But we got tested and we’re all good.”
Cantey, a 27-year-old, describes the SURGE team deploying to Allapattah as “one of the greatest things [he’s] seen happen in this city.”
The neighborhood is often overlooked for basic services, he says, but now he feels like someone is paying attention. He still goes to work at a bakery six days a week, and hopes that the rest of the state will take the right steps by wearing masks and listening to guidance from health experts.
“It’s a responsibility thing, and it feels like some people are being careless,” says Cantey.
The team stops at a home where almost the whole family has tested positive. Milagros Cecilia says her daughter and husband first tested positive, and then two weeks later she started feeling symptoms and her test came back positive as well.
“I still feel like I can’t smell anything,” she said through a fence, about fifteen feet away. Having a lack of smell is a known symptom of COVID-19. She says she hasn’t left the house for weeks.
“But there’s a guy who lives in that house over there who just does whatever he wants,” she says. “The police should go get him or something. He just walks around like it’s nothing.”
Education is one of the main priorities of the SURGE team, in addition to the supplies. While she walks around, Burgos chats up residents, giving them pop quizzes and testing their knowledge on what measures to take to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.
“There was a gentleman who was really really informed but his mask was under his nose,” she says. “So I think that it’s not only important to give the supplies, but to know that they know how to use it.”