Providing translations of COVID-19 information is a significant step in ensuring that everyone knows how to protect themselves and their loved ones from contracting the novel coronavirus. It seems fair to say that every individual, organization and industry has been affected by COVID-19 in one way or another. Given its impact, it is imperative that important information be equally accessible to everyone in its target audience. This includes various responses to the need for information, both written and spoken, to be translated or interpreted into languages other than English.
Just as there have been various actions taken by state and local governments in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, there have also been varied efforts made to provide translations of COVID-19 information. The Harvard Crimson reported in March that a collective of medical students and faculty from several medical schools had come together to form the COVID-19 Health Literacy Project. Their goal was to translate general medical information about the virus, as well as information about its prevention and management, to as wide an audience as possible as soon as possible. This included translation into 34 languages of 7 fact sheets, 3 of which were geared towards children and adolescents and 1 of which focused on COVID-19 and pregnancy.
In Ohio, some of Governor Mike DeWine’s communications were published in Spanish, but counties and nonprofit organizations got involved to help fill the gaps for translations of covid information. The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department published videos and news releases in Arabic, Spanish and Chinese, as well as hosting weekly Facebook Live Q & A sessions in Arabic and Spanish. These sessions had significant viewership, but given that they are only once a week their reach is still limited. Linda Parra, a radio host and founder of nonprofit Nuestra Gente Communities, Inc. has been doing dedicated broadcasts and sharing translations of COVID-19 information on her social media in an attempt to reach anyone who may not be able to attend the county’s Facebook Live sessions. As of this writing, the Dayton and Montgomery County Public Health Department’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 webpage contains a dedicated section for the CDC’s translations of COVID-19 information in Korean, Arabic, Chinese, Somali and Spanish, with the promise that “additional pages will be translated in the coming weeks.”
The response to the need for translations of COVID-19 information in Pennsylvania seems to have lagged, but has perhaps ultimately come to a more widespread resolution. At the end of March, Spanish subtitles were added to the web stream of the state administration’s daily COVID-19 briefing, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH) has also published materials in Spanish. These measures are excellent tools to help Spanish-speaking communities access potentially life-saving information, and as of this writing, the PADOH’s website includes a toggle to translate into over 100 different languages. Pages like Coronavirus FAQs are in those languages, but unfortunately not all the embedded PDFs appear in the target language when they are opened.
Chicago’s efforts to provide translations of COVID-19 information are set to ramp up in light of recent statistics. Within four weeks, the number of Latinos who accounted for the city’s total COVID-19 cases and deaths increased by 23% and 6%, respectively. In a press conference on May 6, 2020, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot described several multilingual resources that the city would begin circulating, including bilingual English/Spanish postcards and door hangers. The city will also host bilingual virtual town hall meetings to discuss their response efforts and answer questions. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Latinos have the highest COVID-19 infection rate of any racial or ethnic group in the state. Providing information in both English and Spanish, then, not only means reaching a wider audience, but also increasing reach to some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Beyond Literal Translations
When considering how to provide translations of COVID-19 information, it is imperative to consider the way the information is presented in the target language. In situations such as these, it is not just literacy that matters – whether or not someone can read – but health literacy. Health literacy involves being able to read, understand and be empowered to utilize healthcare information to protect and potentially improve health. Several factors can affect an individual’s health literacy including age, limited internet access, and being culturally diverse. According to study cited by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 74% of Spanish-speaking patients have less-than-adequate health literacy, compared to 7% of English-speaking patients. But there are ways to avoid gaps in care that low health literacy can cause. These can include using plain language or the skills of an interpreter.
Interpreters and COVID-19
Interpreters are also working to fill gaps that either existed pre-pandemic or have grown exponentially wider since. Many interpreters who previously only worked in person are mobilizing to be able to interpret for patients via video conference or telephone. Depending on what infrastructure is, or is not, already in place, this can involve a significant effort on the part of interpreters, the agency they may work for, and hospitals. Given the improved quality of care that has been demonstrated when services are linguistically and culturally competent, many have dedicated themselves to making that effort.
More than Medical
The significance of providing medical translations of COVID-19 information is evident and in our work with healthcare translations, we seek to provide patients with the information they need to be in better control of their health. However, we can’t forget about other materials that require translation as a result of the pandemic. Communications regarding changes to employment, school, shopping, travel, recreation, etc., should also be equally accessible to all stakeholders.
You will see and hear the refrain that “we are all in this together” on yard signs, during press conferences and in social media campaigns. Part of that means ensuring that everyone has access to the same information, which translation and interpretation can help achieve. Contact us if you’d like more information about how we can help you with this.