How a Petaluma group is aiding vulnerable groups self-isolate across the county

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How To Help:

Information about the virus and county resources is here.

To learn more about IsoCare and to donate, follow this link.

As testing and contact-tracing ramps up across Sonoma County, hundreds of residents are receiving slips of paper ordering them to self-isolate. But for many people, including those in economically vulnerable situations, that’s much easier said than done.

For a group of eight living in a one-bathroom house, or an inter-generational family sharing common spaces, or a single working parent, the directive to quarantine presents a spectrum of different obstacles.

Observing this rising need in Petaluma and across the county, Petaluma People Services Center teamed up with the nascent nonprofit IsoCare to educate and assist the region’s neediest to self-isolate safely and connect with a range of social services.

“It’s a huge ask of people, and we wanted to help the community through this because it’s also a social justice issue,” said IsoCare’s co-founder Margaret Howe. “Resources are more easily available to some people than others, like getting deliveries, childcare or time off from work, so we’re there to help them self-isolate and stay healthy.”

With Petaluma People Services as its host organization, the nearly two-month-old IsoCare has served more than 530 individuals and families in Sonoma County. Community health care providers in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Windsor and West County connect with IsoCare’s core group of six volunteers to refer those who either test positive or are otherwise exposed to the virus and ordered to quarantine.

Of the more than 500 cases, Howe said roughly 400 are referrals from one of their earliest healthcare partners, Petaluma Health Center, which operates two locations in Rohnert Park and Petaluma.

Within about 24 hours, those referred to IsoCare receive a call from nursing students and doctors volunteering their time, asking about their ability to quarantine, the details of their living situation, and informing them what they should and should not do.

“Our primary goal is to help people understand what self-isolation is,” Howe said. “But then, life comes in. They’ll ask about how to get food, how to help with loss of income. That’s where Petaluma People Services Center steps up.”

Executive Director of Petaluma People Services Center Elece Hempel said while some contacted families and individuals have resources and a support system, many do not.

Over the last several weeks, her organization has raised $3,000 to help meet these needs. With no administration costs and an army of volunteers fueling IsoCare, Hempel said the real expense is in providing commonly-requested items such as masks, cleaning supplies, food and diapers.

“If someone is diagnosed or exposed, that individual is sent home with instructions that are fairly vague, and honestly there’s been some people who say they don’t believe there’s even a virus,” Hempel said. “So the best way to solve that is to encourage people to stay at home, and we bring them what they need.”

While the Petaluma nonprofit boasts an impressive roster of programs and resources, the small team is unable to serve the specific needs of residents scattered throughout the county. To expand its reach beyond Petaluma and the immediate surrounding areas, her organization is working closely with community partners embedded around the county, especially in rural areas.

One of those partners is La Luz Center in Sonoma, an advocate for Latino and immigrant community members with a 35-year history serving the Sonoma Valley. Executive Director Juan Hernandez said 95% of those his organization serves are Spanish speakers, providing a crucial connection to a large swath of the community that often wrestles with lack of information and various language barriers.

How To Help:

Information about the virus and county resources is here.

To learn more about IsoCare and to donate, follow this link.

“People here already know us, and we really know these families,” Hernandez said. “It’s not like a metropolis like San Francisco. Here, we know who’s who and have built up relationships over many years.”

In addition to delivering twice-weekly meals to more than 100 families since the shelter-in-place began in March, La Luz Center often works alongside Petaluma People Services Center to support those ordered to self-isolate in the Sonoma region and assist in outreach to the Latino community.

County public health data released last week found 59% of those who tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, identified as Latino or Hispanic despite making up less than a third of the total population. In comparison, white residents are 33% of the county’s positive cases, and nearly 65% of the total population.

“A lot of our clients aren’t going to receive public benefits, so that’s where these community alliances really kick in,” Hernandez said. “The one we have with Petaluma People Services helps us all figure out how to help those hard-to reach clients.”

As IsoCare expands, Hempel is struggling to cement partnerships with community-based organizations in all corners of the county, including in Santa Rosa. For the time being, the program remains a patchwork-type network among nonprofits and social service centers straining to support Sonoma County residents through the ordeal of self-isolation.

“The ask is going to continue unfortunately, and this program is really the first of its kind I’ve heard of that really tries to help people quarantine better and safer,” Hempel said. “My hope is that is really helps to prevent the spread in our community.”

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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