Saturday, July 20, 2024

¿Hablas Español? Bilingual contact tracers try to bridge language gap during the coronavirus

The Peninsula Health District needs bilingual contact tracers to connect to non-English speakers and other vulnerable populations. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Unsplash)
The Peninsula Health District needs bilingual contact tracers to connect to non-English speakers and other vulnerable populations. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Unsplash)

As coronavirus cases in Hampton Roads and the Peninsula continues to be front and center, the need for bilingual contact tracers is more important now than ever.

“A lot of the positive cases, as they have sadly from the start, are among folks in the Hispanic, Latinx community,” said Irene Ferrainolo, spokeswoman for the Peninsula Health District.

According to demographics posted on the Greater Hampton Roads Connects website, roughly 90,146 residents of the Hampton Roads area identify as Hispanic. Of that number, about 74,582 individuals speak Spanish.

Ferrainolo said the PHD is fortunate enough to have a number of contact tracers who speak Spanish working a permanent position, and even some contract contact tracers who were brought in to meet the need during the pandemic.

The PHD also has access to a Spanish interpretation line as an additional back-up.

According to the Virginia Department of Health website, they are still hiring more than 1,200 contractors to work as contact tracers.

Sandra Caballero, owner & director of Centro Hispano de Ayuda y Apoyo LLC., has not had contact with the Virginia Department of Health or the Peninsula Health District about helping contact tracers connect to the Spanish community in the Historic Triangle.

But she is open to reaching out and offering her services.

Caballero said she, along with other local nonprofits including the Williamsburg Health Foundation and Grove Christian Outreach, have been meeting virtually every two weeks to meet the needs of the community from food distribution to COVID-19 testing.

While discussions about contact tracing has not come up in their conversations, Caballero said the group has discussed many barriers to local resources such as language.

Caballero said her daughter, who lives in Florida, works as a contact tracer and while she “obviously” can’t compare Florida and the Historic Triangle when it comes Spanish speakers, there is indeed a need on the Peninsula.

Three main underserved populations, who are usually left out of getting the most information are the minorities, the vulnerable population such as disabled persons, and non-English speakers, she said.

“If you don’t know how to read, how do you say, ‘read this sign?,'” she added.

Having bilingual contact tracers is important not just for the Spanish speaking community, non-English speakers or those who are deaf, but for the entire community, she said.

“It is very important to have contact tracers who are bilingual or more than that like sign language,” she said, “They are getting information to them, to people that are ill and to us to prevent the rest of us from getting it.”

Caballero said the VDH has recently used images in their signs, like showing a person coughing or looking tired, which helps.

“There’s so much physical language involved in health,” she said. “Imagine you trying to explain everything in Greek, you’re ill, you’re scared but you can’t communicate that, you can’t explain that.”

People in vulnerable populations need to understand what the symptoms are and where they can go get help because they might be spreading the disease “without any intention of doing so,” Caballero noted.

“There are people that live their lives with little headaches –––and they keep on going,” she said.

Ferrainolo said there are several agencies still hiring contact tracers for the state health department. Those who are interested in applying can go to the Virginia Department of Health website for details.


Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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