Local activists, doctors and community leaders are calling out critical gaps in information and outreach about the novel coronavirus to Orange County immigrant families and businesses where English isn’t the first language.
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For example, a recent order by the county health officer to ban all public gatherings – and the county’s subsequent attempts to clarify that businesses can still operate under it – weren’t immediately translated into languages other than English when the order went into effect Tuesday.
“The way it was written — that alone already stirred confusion, and this information needed to be put out in multiple languages,” said Tracy La, co-founder of the OC Vietnamese American immigrant advocacy group VietRISE.
She added “there are many businesses” in Latino communities in cities like Santa Ana and Anaheim and Vietnamese communities like Little Saigon, “who are going to need to need that information.”
County officials didn’t immediately answer questions about possible translations of County Health Officer Nichole Quick’s newest health order, currently available in English on the county website, into non-English languages.
OC Health Care Agency Public Information Manager Jessica Good said in a March 12 email that if residents access the agency’s coronavirus webpage, “you will see the effort that has gone into keeping the community apprised as translations move forward and become available.”
“We have also shared these documents with our K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and let our community partners know we are here to assist with printing copies if they do not have the resources to do so,” she said. “In addition, we have embedded Google translate onto the website and ensured our FAQs (which are frequently updated) are immediately translatable.”
While the county has made a number of fact sheets and information guides available in languages other than English, La and other local activists and doctors have taken it upon themselves to make sure that information gets across to a host of areas around the county that see large clusters of non-English speaking immigrant families and businesses.
“Some of us came together from different areas — teachers, students, healthcare professionals, community organizations — to fill in those gaps but also to provide reassurance to our community that during this health crisis, we have to work together and we have to provide a sense of calmness and reassurance for our community, with all the panic and fear mongering that’s been happening,” La said in a phone interview last Saturday.
She said the county should be taking more proactive and aggressive measures to make sure that immigrant community members and businesses are getting this type information.
For people who don’t have easy access to the internet where many of the county’s information translations are located, “they need other forms of outreach from the county to make sure getting the right information,” La added.
At a Tuesday virtual press conference — hosted by VietRISE and a few other advocacy groups and livestreamed through Facebook and Instagram — Dr. Mai-Phương Nguyễn, a local physician and community advocate, listed off a slew of key facts about the virus and instructions on how to stay healthy in Vietnamese and Spanish.
There’s a lot of information out there, “and not all of it is good for you,” Nguyễn said, pointing to a number of resources that VietRISE staff and other volunteers compiled into their website in Vietnamese and Spanish, as well as a publicly accessible Google spreadsheet online that English speakers can use to inform non-English speaking family members or friends.
A lot of Vietnamese Americans in the county and specifically in Little Saigon – which spans cities like Garden Grove, Westminster and Fountain Valley – get their information through “word-of-mouth,” said Minh Phạm, an aspiring medical professional and Westminster resident working to organize with VietRISE.
“But sometimes the information may be not the correct information. That’s what I have been seeing a lot of,” he said, adding that many in the community “usually go to social media and we do we pull information from different types of press or forms of information that aren’t official.”
The activists are also calling on cities to enact emergency protections for communities of color against evictions and utility shut-offs, which cities are now allowed to do under a March 16 executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom that gives local jurisdictions the OK to declare a state of emergency.
The Santa Ana City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to declare a local emergency that includes a resolution stating residents cannot be evicted and utilities will remain on with late fees waived.
This comes as a slate of OC cities have begun to declare states of emergency, with Westminster scheduled to declare one at an emergency Council meeting tomorrow.
Another challenge that Asian Americans in the county specifically will face, on top of information gaps, is xenophobia, said Thiery Nguyen, a local high school student, at the virtual press conference.
“You can see it in our schools, where high school Asian kids at Bolsa Grande high school have been verbally attacked,” Nguyen said, referring to an incident acknowledged by the Garden Grove Unified School district where two students filmed themselves shouting “coronavirus” at Asian American students on campus. The video, originally posted on YouTube, was then reposted in shorter clips to an alumni’s Facebook post.
“Although I hate the fact that I have to say this, the actions of these people have made it clear that someone needs to say our race is not a virus,” Nguyen said.
After denouncing the incident during the press conference, Garden Grove Unified School District Board President Walter Muneton called on the county Board of Supervisors to “provide rapid and transparent government plans on how they plan to prevent outbreaks.”
“And at the same time,” he added, “not incite panic or fear amongst our community, especially our most vulnerable.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporting fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.