Translators play pivotal role in breaking COVID-19 language barriers

Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 10:50 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -Dane County public health officials are breaking language barriers to ensure everyone has access to COVID-19 resources.

Communities of color are experiencing higher rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. It’s been that way since the pandemic began. Latinx communities have nearly 2 times greater case rates compared to white communities, according to Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services.

“No one is exempt from getting infected,” Maritza Sanchez, Dane County resident said in Spanish.

Sanchez caught COVID-19 early on in the pandemic. It forced her and her husband into quarantine and into a bind. The Venezuela native was living in fear. She was trying to get by with little knowledge of the coronavirus because language created a barrier.

“We were so afraid of the coronavirus. We are alone here. We don’t have family,” Sanchez said in Spanish.

Sanchez caught wind of a Spanish-speaking radio show so she tuned in. On the radio waves, a Dane County public health official broke down a step-by-step guide about the virus in her language.

“Liliana guided me. You have no idea. She was an angel that fell from the sky,” Sanchez said.

Translators play a pivotal role in ensuring all communities have access to the vaccine.
Translators play a pivotal role in ensuring all communities have access to the vaccine.(none)

Liliana Lema, bilingual disease intervention specialist, works at public health Madison and Dane County . She makes sure Spanish-speakers are in the know about COVID-19.

“I believe it’s really important,” she said. “We can be reached by phone, text and email. We’re trying to do the best we can to provide what they need.”

Lema said translating creates understanding and trust.

“We have access to documents that are translated in Spanish and sometimes they are really hard to understand,” Lema continued.

Translators are serving as a lifeline making sure no one gets left in the dark.

“For all of Dane County. For all of the Madison area. It’s not just Latinx,” Lema said.

Centro-Hispano, Latino Chamber of Commerce, Latino Health Council and Latino Children’s and Family Council are a few organizations also heading these efforts.

In March, UW-Health plans to hire covid vaccine patient educators to work in communities of color in Dane County.

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