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The federal extension of coronavirus relief will allow Los Angeles County to distribute roughly $3 million in unspent funding to agencies working to reach hard-hit communities with accurate information about COVID-19, along with face masks and sanitizer.

“The Community Health Worker Outreach Initiative has been one of the most effective communication programs through Los Angeles County’s response to COVID-19, and this extension will allow critical efforts to continue across the hardest hit communities,” Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “Public Health is committed to closing the gaps experienced among communities of color, where there are higher case, hospitalization and death rates.”

The new federal relief bill passed late last month extended the deadline for spending relief dollars for one year — to Dec. 31. County officials say they can now continue outreach efforts, which began in October, through January and potentially into February.

The extension comes at a time when the county is experiencing a dangerous surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The program relies on people already trusted by community members to get out accurate information in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

“This extension provides communities across the county with critical information about COVID-19 vaccinations, dispels myths and rumors, and informs residents on steps they can take to slow the spread of the virus, including following safety protocols, getting tested, and reporting workplace outbreaks,” Ferrer said.

The Department of Public Health’s Community Health Worker Outreach began with a budget of $18.5 million and, working in partnership with California Community Foundation, mobilized roughly five dozen workers and 16 community-based organizations. Those agencies, in turn, activated more than 900 part-time and full-time community health workers, including promoters, advocates for indigenous people and people of color, gang intervention workers and peace ambassadors. They have reached an estimated 369,000 residents and distributed 232,000 face coverings and 60,000 hand sanitizer bottles.

The point of the outreach is to sent out credible messengers who can “interrupt” the virus by amplifying accurate and up-to-date information regarding COVID-19.

“These community health workers and promoters are trusted community members who not only share the ethnicity and language of the people they serve, they are often from those very same neighborhoods,” county Supervisors Hilda Solis said. “With this current surge, we are seeing huge disparities in communities of color that have the fewest resources. It is more important now than ever that these respected communicators continue providing those hardest hit by the pandemic with the information and resources that will allow them to protect themselves and their families.”