Lincoln County Reaches Out To Mam Speakers As Part Of Fight Against Virus

Aug 18, 2020

As part of the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Lincoln County is reaching out to speakers of an indigenous language from Central America.

In late spring, Lincoln County emerged as a hotspot for COVID-19 in Oregon, with several large outbreaks occuring at local businesses, including a seafood processor.

A screen shot from a video in Mam demonstrating the proper wear to wear a face covering.
Credit OSU Extension

Public health officials realized they needed to improve education efforts about the virus for the local community of Mam speakers. That’s an indigenous language spoken in parts of Guatemala and Mexico.

Beatriz Botello of Oregon State University’s Lincoln County Extension helped organize the effort. She said some material for Mam speakers already existed, but it was in a different dialect than what was spoken locally. 

“One of the videos that had been done, the community didn’t understand, because it was a different type of Mam,” said Botello, who also serves on the Newport City Council.

So a coalition of local groups, including Lincoln County Health and Human Services, arranged for local Mam speakers to make videos in the correct dialect, showing things like the proper way to wear a face covering or how to properly disinfect commonly touched items.

The videos have been viewed hundreds of times on Facebook and YouTube, said Dusti Linnell, also with the OSU Extension Service.

"We knew that by creating these videos from community members to be shared with their family and friends, that information would likely circulate more quickly than some of the messages coming from the government," she said.

The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed a critical gap in services for Mam speakers that extends beyond the current crisis, said Linnell. "One of the things that the pandemic has brought us is a light in the dusty corners of our health system that shows that access is an issue."

Lincoln County remains in Phase One of Gov. Kate Brown's re-opening plan, but it's no longer on a state watch list, indicating some success in the efforts to slow the spread of the virus locally.