Latin Heritage Month: COVID-19 frontline workers

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- This Latin Heritage Month, we salute Latinos working at Triangle hospitals, who are on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carlos Corrales is a registered nurse at WakeMed Health & Hospital's Children's Emergency Department. During the pandemic, he's also been working at the WakeMed Emergency Department, treating coronavirus patients and conducting COVID-19 testing.

"A little bit in the back of my mind, there's always a fear, especially when you hear of friends or family that have been passed away due to it," Corrales said. "And you hear, also, of health care providers that are also passing away."

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Corrales was born in Nicaragua. His wife is also a nurse at WakeMed, who treats COVID-19 patients. They have three sons.

"My kids know that as soon as they see me, they're not allowed to come near me or hug me," Corrales said. "The first thing I did was, you know, strip off my uniform, put it in a bag to make sure that we can wash it separate and straight to the bathroom and shower. Make sure that I was clean enough for them. Then I can talk to them and see how they're doing. So that was hard because some days something happens. And you know, you want to hug your son. You want to hug your family. You can't yet. You know that's part of the process."

Due to the high impact of COVID-19 on the Latinx community in North Carolina, Duke Health primary care Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi helped start Latin-19.

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"The group is very interdisciplinary, and it has allowed us to really listen to what's going on in the community and give advice to what we can do to really tackle this," Dr. Martinez-Bianchi said, adding that the coronavirus has disproportionately affected the community.

The Argentinian spoke along with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen during a COVID-19 news briefing on June 26. But Dr. Martinez-Bianchi said she doesn't consider herself a hero in this pandemic.

"I think the heroes are the community health workers. I think heroes are people that are cleaning the places where we work every day," Dr. Martinez-Bianchi said, getting emotional.

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Such as Lina Zabala and Antia Grullon, who work for WakeMed Health & Hospitals Environmental Services, cleaning areas where COVID-19 patients are treated. They're both from the Dominican Republic.

Grullon said in Spanish that everyone who works in a hospital, such as in maintenance, or in the kitchen, is a hero.

"People only speak about the doctor, nurse," Zabala said, adding people don't usually speak about them.

While cleaning, Zabala and Grullon get a glimpse into those difficult moments for COVID-19 patients, who are fighting for their lives.

"It's hard for me when I (see) the people can't breathe," Zabala said, adding that some patients are intubated and alone in the room.

These frontline workers are motivated by their passion for helping others.

"We want to help people get better," Corrales said. "We want to help people come back to see their families."

Corrales said his heritage helps him relate to some of his patients, who only speak Spanish. He's able to speak to them in their native language.

These frontline workers also serve as role models for Latinx youth.

"Some of the most beautiful things I've ever heard was for a boy, a 10-year-old boy, saying you know, that he wanted to grow up to be like me, and that meant being a doctor," Dr. Martinez-Bianchi said.
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