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Latino lives at risk if language barrier poses threat during COVID-19 vaccine distribution

‘Would you want to read something that is going to save your life in a second language?’

ROANOKE, Va. – Hundreds of thousands of essential workers are waiting for their names to be called to receive the coronavirus vaccine, but there is a whole community among us that may not know it’s even out there.

The pandemic fight is harder for Latinos when there is a language barrier in between.

Back in August, more than 40% of confirmed coronavirus cases in Virginia were from the Latino community. Yet, Latinos only make up about 10% of the state’s population.

“So if you are thinking about that number how does that even make sense,” Virginia Hispanic Chamber Director of Sales and Membership Nikolas Johnson said.

Now, 15 percent of confirmed cases are in the Latino community, which is a drastic reduction in numbers partly because of materials being written in Spanish.

“Would you want to read something that is going to save your life in a second language?” Johnson said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Virginia Hispanic Chamber fought with health organizations to get signs, pamphlets and other materials translated into Spanish to immediately save Latinos’ lives.

“They never translated this amount of information,” Virginia Hispanic Chamber CEO and Founder Michel Zajur said. “I mean you are talking life and death. To get this information where you understand and to the sources, they are coming from. There is a lot of misinformation out there.”

According to a 2020 Center for Economic and Policy Research report, Latinos overrepresent the building cleaning service industry at 40.2%.

As officials continue to prioritize which essential workers will receive the vaccine first, it could mean more lives at stake.

“If they are confused on when I’m going to be able to get it,” Johnson said. “The last population that is going to get it is the Hispanic population.”

That’s why the City of Roanoke hired a specialist to not only translate online material for Latinos but visit neighborhoods one-on-one.

“If you have a face, a name, a voice to put with the information that you’re receiving, all of sudden it is all real,” Gresilda Tilley-Lubbs, Casa Latina’s acting executive director, said.

Casa Latina and the City of Roanoke work hand and hand to keep Latino families informed as new information continues to trickle in from the state health department.

From making signage to forming a Spanish hotline, the City continues to help by updating their Spanish webpage with questions and answers about vaccine distribution.


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