The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for the Latino community.

Latinos are three times more likely to be hospitalized by the virus than non-Latino whites, and more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Several factors contribute to those high rates, including socioeconomic status, less access to health care, language barriers and exposure to COVID-19 on the job.

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Pastor Rusty Price

That’s where Pastor Rusty Price of Camino Church comes in. He’s the central figure at the Charlotte church, and its accompanying community clinic, that has served the Latino community for more than 20 years.

Recently, 80 people received COVID-19 vaccinations at the Camino clinic in northeast Charlotte on a Saturday, helping close the vaccine disparity gap a bit among minority populations.

“We believe that especially during this pandemic, Latinos deserve to make informed decisions about their health and Camino is doing everything possible to make that happen,” Price said. “Not only should Latinos have equal access to vaccinations but also access to vaccine information and education – in their language and relevant to their culture. This is the message we are sending to the Latino community through our COVID-19 vaccination events.”

Camino’s clinic sees patients who are sick, and is part of an integrated health and wellness center (Camino Community Center) that sees more than 30,000 individuals per year. The center recently purchased its first mobile unit.

“We're a very trusted place where the first person that they talk to there, will speak to them in Spanish,” Price said. “We try to leverage that trust and build bridges to the broader community.”

Jesse Cureton, Novant Health’s executive vice president and chief consumer officer, invited Price to sit on an advisory committee for One Charlotte Health Alliance, which aims to improve health and access in excluded communities. Price has been embedded in the Latino community for a long time. It knows him. It listens and trusts him.

A pastor’s son branches out

Price, born in Kentucky, grew up in a pastor’s home, with stops in Indiana and then Panama City, Florida. He did missionary work in Cuba and Mexico, where he learned the Spanish language. His primary focus was Cuba for 10 years, and still had a hand in helping the Latino community in Charlotte, where his father was a pastor at Northside Baptist Church.

“Cuba was life-changing for me,” Price said. “I don't know if I did any good there, but God surely changed me in Cuba. We had a group of people (in Charlotte) we were helping and it morphed into what Camino is today. It seemed like God’s plan.”

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Pastor Rusty Price of Camino Church serves a congregation of about 1,000.

Price’s congregation numbers about 1,000, what he calls “a bilingual, multicultural, little bit of everything church.” Worship services are bilingual and are translated simultaneously.

“I love Latinos’ spirit,” Price said. “I see so many virtues in that community that I feel like sometimes some of our society has lost. I love seeing the dad that's worked 14 hours outside in the weather. He comes home and his whole family celebrates how hard he worked that day. And he takes great pride. It reminds me of what America was built on, the whole family piece of it, that loyalty they're big about that community.”

Price continues to spread the message urging Latinos to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, to protect themselves, their families and community. There are more than 60 million Latinos in the United States, which accounts for 18.5% of the population, more than African Americans (13.4) or Asians.

Price worries about the outsized impact COVID-19 has had on the Latino community. The virus has infected many, but the measures taken to prevent spread has forced some jobs to disappear or have limited hours, created language barriers around messages of care and prevention and sometimes caused Latinos to be untrusting. Price and the Camino community continue their outreach and communication.

“I feel like I've been challenged by Latinos’ resilience and tenacity to overcome obstacles,” Price said. “They're people of great faith.”