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South Omaha community, small businesses deal with coronavirus

Posted at 10:11 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-23 23:39:57-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) - — South Omaha leaders say they want their community members to understand the seriousness of coronavirus.

Several leaders and elected officials held a public call, hoping to better inform Omaha's Spanish-speaking community about the importance of social distancing.

Employees at one South Omaha grocery store are doing their part to keep people safe.

"People they can come in [and] shop you know there has to be like a 6-foot [distance] between each customer," Store owner Candelario Zamora said.

Zamora has limited his hours, closing 2 hours earlier than usual.

But he says, many people are still coming in for essentials like milk, eggs, flour, and vegetables.

At his store, Zamora's marked X's on the ground indicating a 6-foot distance between shoppers.

His employees wear gloves and masks whether they're working behind the register, or at the deli.

Diva Mejias is the president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

She says the past few weeks have been tough for small business owners.

"You have to keep going because it's our livelihood we don't have all this wealth built and put away," she said. "We don't have a 5 year emergency fund put away so some of our small business owners really live month to month."

On Sunday, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce hosted a Facebook live event, informing many small business owners about resources to help keep their stores afloat.

"We just want to make sure everybody is informed,"Mejias said. "We're in uncharted times and we need to keep our heads, we have to stay focused and we have to just do the right thing for everyone."

Senator Tony Vargas has concerns about the community's efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

"At different times we were still seeing really packed streets," Senator Vargas said. "We were still seeing packed parking lots and we were concerned that the Latino community specifically in South Omaha wasn't reeving the message yet, [and] wasn't yet changing all their behaviors in the way we would want to."

But community activist Ben Salazar says it's not that simple.

He says more people are out and working in South Omaha because they have no other choice.

"They're taking a calculated risk out of necessity," he said. "They have to bring home a little bit of money for survival , that's why they're here."

Senator Vargas said he understands that most Nebraskans must work.

"People are going to work because they don't have any choice," he said. "I don't think that's just the Latino community I think that's all hardworking Nebraskans, specifically the most vulnerable group of people that have to work to be able to put food on the table ... but the one thing I will say is when we're trying to abide by this public gathering limit of 10, we wan to ensure the Latino community also taking that seriously and is doing everything they can to stay home if they can."

Salazar says he believes some in the community wouldn't have access to certain benefits due to their immigration status.

"Most of them are immigrants, most of them are Latino immigrants from Mexico, Central America and I would say that the vast majority of them don't have unemployment plans," he said.

The Hispanic chamber president says they're working with financial institutions to help those who may not qualify for small business loans.

The president says their goal is to keep the South 24th Street business owners informed.

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