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A Patchwork Of Resources: Reaching Spanish Speakers During A Pandemic

A screenshot of Maria Davis with the COVID-19 Regional Information Center narrating a step-by-step video explaining the COVID-19 testing process.
Latinos de Nevada/Regional Information Center
Maria Davis with the COVID-19 Regional Information Center explains the COVID-19 testing process step-by-step in Spanish.

Lee en español.

With information about the coronavirus constantly changing and its impact on northern Nevada unknown, efforts to provide Spanish speakers in the region with COVID-19 updates are taking a variety of forms. 

A patchwork of initiatives at the community, city and county levels is providing some updates, but those efforts aren’t reaching everyone. Additionally, some local Spanish speakers don’t have access to technology, including phones and computers, to access the information that is being shared. 

At the Alma Clinic in Sparks, at least 90 percent of patients speak Spanish. The clinic’s office manager Brenda Pinon says the clinic is now doing video consultations instead of in-person visits. But the transition has been difficult for many patients who face both digital and literacy barriers.

“Before this a lot of our patients wouldn’t even like to speak on the phone,” Pinon said. “They wouldn’t call. Any question, even if they had a question about their appointment, they would come in person. Technology and switching them over to video has definitely been a challenge.”

Prior to COVID-19, the clinic had about 10 percent of patients not show for their appointments. Now that consultations are online, 40 to 50 percent are no-shows. Pinon says this spike is due in part to the fact that some patients don’t have a device to join a virtual consultation. For others, the idea is just too foreign of a concept. 

The clinic is also seeing confusion among patients about what COVID-19 information is true. 

“There are a lot of rumors going on and they don’t know where to get information,” Pinon said.  

Latinos in the area need accurate COVID-19 updates. Based on incomplete data from the Washoe County Health District released on April 23, nearly halfof positive COVID-19 cases up to that point were Latinos. The data only included people who were willing to disclose their race and ethnicity.  

To help share credible coronavirus information, Pinon, and other staff, including the clinic’s nurse practitioner, host a bilingual Facebook video series called “Caso Abierto” (which refers to an ongoing medical investigation). 

For the videos, they gather COVID-19 information from sources like Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organization. They’ve noticed verbal communication is the most effective way to reach many of their patients, as opposed to sending texts or emails. 

Along with the Alma Clinic, other community organizations like National Hispanic Services and Tu Casa Latinaare offering resources related to immigration, domestic violence and other social services during the pandemic. 

In addition to these grassroots efforts, the coronavirus pandemic also prompted the City of Reno’s Spanish communications staff to organize Spanish-language virtual events, something  they hadn’t tried before. 

Cynthia Esparza oversaw the city’s first-ever Facebook Live in Spanish and says COVID-19 has highlighted the need for the city to do more on this front.

“There’s been a spotlight put on the need, and it’s been exhilarating and stressful and very rewarding to be a part of the process,” Esparza said.  

The city also hosted a Spanish-language town hall. However, the city does not have specific plans for future virtual events in Spanish.

Maria Davis does Hispanic community outreach with the COVID-19 Regional Information Center, which is a joint effort among multiple agencies in Washoe County. She’s a certified court interpreter and her temporary position was specifically created to help inform the Latino community during COVID-19.

She recently narrated the COVID-19 testing process step-by-step in Spanish for a video that was shared online by the Regional Information Center. 

Davis is also providing coronavirus updates for Spanish-language radio, TV and Facebook groups in the area. For people without phones or Internet access, she’s printed paper copies of information on COVID-19 that are distributed with some food donations. 

“Sometimes it’s hard because they don’t have Internet, and some might have a phone but then they don’t have any data for the time being, so they have to wait until someone lets them use a phone. We’d like to think that they are connected to Facebook. Not everyone is able to do that.”  

Davis is also directing Spanish speakers to covid19washoe.com. The Regional Information Center’s site has a page with some resources available in Spanish, primarily the daily press releases and the COVID-19 symptom assessment form from the health district. 

However, an important part of her role is finding community members, from soccer coaches to priests, to help her share information about COVID-19 with Spanish speakers, especially those who have limited access to technology. 

“If I’m going to go wait for people to find the website, that might never happen,” Davis said. “For some of those really hard to reach people that just don’t have access to technology or don’t know how to access technology. So I’m asking the leaders in our community, the key leaders.” 

These key leaders are finding their own ways to get information out to their community members. For example, Reverend Jorge Herrera of Little Flower Church in Reno broadcasts his services in Spanish via Facebook Live and incorporates information about COVID-19 into his sermons. 

Even with all of these initiatives, Pinon says there is still work to be done.

“That’s something that’s missing in the community of Northern Nevada. The Spanish speakers, our the Latino and Hispanic community, they don't have anywhere really to turn for trustworthy information,” Pinon said. 

Pinon says this problem has been around since long before the pandemic brought this issue to light.

This story was produced in partnership with Noticiero Móvil

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Natalie is a freelance journalist and translator based in Reno, Nevada, who reports in English and Spanish. She also works for the nonprofit SembraMedia, supporting independent, digital Spanish-language media in the United States.
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