Getting coronavirus updates in Spanish is a mixed bag in US

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Staff member Irene Lucio smiles as she greets patrons in English and Spanish, as people enter the Valleywise Health Medical Center and are screened for COVID-19 and coronavirus Monday, March 16, 2020, in Phoenix. As government officials continue to ring the alarm bell about the coronavirus, all over the nation, they're doing so predominantly in English. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Osvaldo Salas speaks a little English, but not proficiently. The suburban Phoenix man relies on Spanish-language TV and friends and family for information on the coronavirus because state and local officials haven't posted any updates online in Spanish even as the global pandemic widens.

“Unfortunately, here in Arizona, they turn their backs on Hispanic people," Salas, a restaurant cook, said in Spanish. “Here, many of us speak Spanish, thousands of us, and unfortunately sometimes they put us to the side."

As government officials across the country warn about the dangers of the coronavirus, they’re doing so predominantly in English. They’re potentially not reaching the millions of Spanish speakers in the U.S. who aren’t proficient in English to make sure they know how to stay healthy.

Advocacy groups and Spanish-language media have stepped up to fill in the gaps as cities and states say they're working to translate guidance about hand washing and the effects of closing schools and businesses into the second-most spoken language in the U.S. Univision was also dedicating more airtime to the coronavirus.

In Arizona, where 30% of residents are Hispanic, the Department of Health Services has a webpage with coronavirus updates — but none of the information is in Spanish.

The health department was still translating coronavirus updates, Director Cara Christ said Monday. By Wednesday, there was still no Spanish and the department didn't respond to a request for comment on Salas' concerns. No media briefings have been broadcast in Spanish, although health officials have done Spanish-language interviews with Hispanic media.

“This has been a rapidly evolving situation and so things update almost daily," Christ said. “We are working on getting a lot of our hard materials translated into Spanish and working on getting Spanish in our social media."

Salas, who's his family's primary breadwinner, said he's worried about feeding his wife and four children, one of whom has a rare genetic disorder that requires full-time care. He says his restaurant is closing and he's heard on the news that some shuttered school districts are still handing out free meals, but he has no idea if theirs is one of them because there's been no outreach.