Multilingual Emergency Info Lacking

Non-English-speaking communities in the U.S. have voiced concern that coronavirus information is being communicated to them after the rest of the country and in less detail, creating a divide that could put minority groups at risk.

Girl wearing a mask drags her suitcase through a deserted airport

The Center for Disease Control and Pre­vention (CDC) offers Spanish and simplified Chinese translations for its main COVID-19 website, but without all the resources that are available on the English site.

“Our federal government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone in our communities-whether they speak English, Spanish, or any other language-has access to the same public health information on the coronavirus crisis,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). “It is unacceptable that the Trump administration is falling behind in distributing translations of critical life-saving guidance in other languages commonly used in the U.S. beyond English,” he added in an email to The Hill.

Public service announcements released by the federal government in English often have to wait until the following day for a Spanish translation.

“There is no excuse for his administration failing to provide public health recommendations in Spanish at the same time the information was made available in English on the CDC and White House websites,” said Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-California), chairman of Bold PAC.

“At the very least you could do the top five languages spoken by those who are of limited English proficiency, which are Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-California), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).

Initially, the White House only had guidelines up in Spanish and simplified Chinese, in addition to English, despite calls for resources in dozens of other languages.

Chu teamed up with Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-New York) on March 13 to urge the CDC to make its information available in those five languages.

Chu said she would appeal to her colleagues in the Tri-Caucus-the CHC, the CAPAC, and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to demand language inclusion be a part of the third coronavirus stimulus bill.

“When we need to communicate with the public, especially in times of crisis, we need to think about this, plan for it, allocate adequate resources up front,” said Juliet K. Choi of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum. “Otherwise we’re really creating unnecessary and almost our own created additional layers of barriers to ensuring that our communities are safe, healthy, and well informed,” she added. “There’s an existing federal framework. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has an excellent language action plan-literally, that’s what they call it, the FEMA Language Action Plan,” said Choi. She added that FEMA’s language plan provides a blueprint for languages that will be needed to confront a crisis and has the capacity to translate gov­ernment actions and instructions into many foreign languages. “FEMA highlights 19 [languages], which I think is a really excellent standard,” said Choi.

1 COMMENT

  1. I live in Sweden and the local council has distributed a flyer to every household about this (there’s one on the noticeboard on my block of flats). The flyer has QR codes on it which take you to Covid-19 information in each of 20 different minority languages, including Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Somali.

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