A key element in curbing the spread of COVID-19 is contacting people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. That includes Oregonians who don’t speak English as their first language.
Lincoln County has the second-highest confirmed case count per capita in Oregon, due in part to several workplace outbreaks. The county has hired contact tracers to call people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus and urge them to self-quarantine for two weeks.
Public health officials realized they needed to hire people to reach out to the county’s non-English speakers. One of their new employees is Fernando Garza, who normally works as a medical interpreter. He said the people he’s called have been grateful to hear from someone who speaks their language, especially when it comes to concepts that may be unfamiliar, such as "self-quarantine."
“They’re hearing it in English, but they’re not sure they’re comprehending or understanding, so I just repeat all that in Spanish until they get it, for the most part,” said Garza.
Part of Garza's job is to combat misinformation about the coronavirus, including rumors spread through social media. "I steer them away from that stuff," he said. "They come in, guns blazing, with what (they) just saw on Facebook. And I say, 'consider your source.'"
He said the job has its challenges, but there's a certain amount of satisfaction that comes with talking to people who may have felt overlooked. "There was a gentlemen who is doing his quarantine because he tested positive, and he said 'I haven't eaten in two days,'" said Garza. "I got all the information and then I forwarded it my boss as an urgent need. They were able to get hold of him and arrange for him to get something to eat."
Nearly ten percent of Lincoln County residents are Hispanic or Latino, according to US Census figures. The County has also been reaching out to speakers of Mam, an indigenous language from Guatemala.