Ivonne Rivero is a homecare worker, who looks after an elder near and dear to her: her mother.
“As you can guess, my mother is the matriarch in this family,” says Rivero. “Her life is so, so important to all of us.”
As a homecare worker, Rivero is responsible for helping her mother live as safely and independently as possible. That can mean providing hygienic care, medical assistance, laundry services, meal preparation, shopping needs and cognitive support on any day of the week.
Amid the trials of the ongoing pandemic, the already demanding workload has ballooned in size.
“Every day, you have to be at it,” says Rivero. “Every day with no rest.”
Rivero’s mother is 83 years old and has a number of health conditions, all of which make her more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.
As a personal and professional responsibility, Rivero’s family adopted some basic house rules early in the pandemic in order to keep her safe.
“I have been following protocols, wearing my mask, doing intensive handwashing — to the extent that my hands are now so wrinkly,” says Rivero.
Even with the precautions in place though, Rivero still didn’t feel comfortable having anyone come in contact with her mother — something that’s been hard on her large, multi-generational family.
“For all of the last year, we have not permitted the young ones to come,” says Rivero. “We see everybody through the window.”
But she stands firm in that decision. She’s experienced firsthand just how devastating COVID-19 can be.
“I had three deaths in my inner circle at the beginning of the pandemic,” says Rivero. “One of my dear friends died, leaving four children and a husband behind.”
Her background for the interview, a screenshot of Hector Hernandez’s mural “Exito y Amistad,” reflects her commitment to honor the memory of all those who have passed.
She’s done everything in her power to prevent something similar from happening to her mother or any other elder in her community. Such high stakes, however, can take a toll. That’s why she’s been grateful to get more plugged in with her union, Service Employees International (SEIU), for support.
“I’m really happy to have found people who think like me,” says Rivero. “This pandemic has been really hard on so many fronts, and I’m not the only one who gets tired of being in isolation.”
Outside of providing a sense of community, SEIU has also been a valuable source of information. The organization was one of the first to notify Rivero and her fellow homecare workers that they were eligible for vaccinations early on in Oregon’s vaccine distribution efforts.
“We are frontline workers as well,” said Rivero. “Even if we were in homes, we’re still frontline workers.”
Upon hearing the announcement, Rivero scheduled an appointment to receive her first dose of the Moderna vaccine in early February. While she was initially nervous about getting vaccinated, she says that her appointment couldn’t have gone more smoothly.
“All of a sudden, you raise your arm and it goes *tck*,” says Rivero, reenacting the simple vaccination process. “30 seconds, you know microseconds later, and then you’re done for a month.”
By late March, two weeks following her second dose, Rivero was fully immunized. Still, she felt like she had more work to do. Specifically, she wanted to find a way to support the Latinx community, which has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
“The first solution was for me to get the vaccine,” says Rivero. “But then I needed to make sure that every person that could get vaccinated, according to the law, was able to get that vaccine.”
And she knew just how to get the word out.
For over a year now, Rivero has worked as a volunteer producer for the KBOO Radio broadcast called “Breve Informativo.” It’s a segment that provides COVID-19 news and commentary every day for about 10 minutes in Spanish.
“It’s been an opportunity for us to be aiming to connect and provide service to the Spanish speakers who have listened to KBOO for over 20 years,” says Rivero. “This was an opportunity to be of service because we were, and still are, in a crisis situation.”
When the vaccines arrived in Oregon, Rivero says she began studying Oregon’s vaccine distribution plan extensively, paying close attention to any updates about who was becoming eligible when. Everything she learned, she broadcasted on Breve Informativo.
“We should not let this confusion going on in the community prevent us from having access to the incredible opportunity that we have,” says Rivero. “We should not let go of an opportunity of keeping safe, keeping healthy, being with the people we love.”
While the broadcast has been an added responsibility to balance with her roles as a homecare worker and a member of SEIU, Rivero says it supports one of her personal missions to connect with people across language and culture.
“If my words can get to somebody’s ear and the person goes and finds the way to get a vaccine — my work is done,” says Rivero.
To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine in Oregon and how to schedule an appointment, visit covidvaccine.oregon.gov. Once you’re vaccinated, you can share your vaccine story with us by filling out our survey, either in English or Spanish, or by using the hashtags #MyVaccineReason or #MiVozMiVacuna when you share on your social media channels.