It’s taken Orange County officials at least four weeks to offer a non-English sign-up form for their largest coronavirus testing site.
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The testing center, at the Anaheim Convention Center, has been touted as helping provide better testing access in the hard-hit largely Latino communities of West Anaheim and Santa Ana.
But when it came to county grants for restaurants that say they’re following pandemic safety rules, within a week of the announcement the application was available in multiple languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese.
Local residents are questioning whether it shows skewed priorities amid the biggest public health crisis in a century.
“The nations who handled this correctly did so through widespread testing and contact tracing. Our county has really dragged its feet on mobilizing free testing for the masses. And then to hear the logistics of the testing at the super site is unclear to non-English speakers is just maddening,” said Amanda Mooney, a Mission Viejo resident and attorney.
“The Board [of Supervisors] clearly demonstrated they understood the accessibility issues with the safe dining website so why treat testing any differently?” asked Mooney, who first raised questions about it on Facebook in response to a Voice of OC article.
At the county’s weekly coronavirus news conference last Thursday, Voice of OC asked top county officials when the testing sign-up will be translated, which languages will be available, and why has that not happened already in the month that site has been open, given the quick translation of the restaurant grant application.
In his response, the county’s top public health official did not say why the testing sign-up wasn’t translated, but said Spanish and Vietnamese forms would be available soon, without specifying when.
“I had conversations with staff, this morning and yesterday. We know that we have English, Spanish translated already, getting ready to be posted. Vietnamese is also getting ready to be posted. And we’re looking at whether or not there’s a necessity for Korean, the other threshold language,” said Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency.
As of the following afternoon, the sign-up form – which is required to get tested at the Anaheim Convention Center site – was still only available in English. The testing site opened about a month earlier on July 15.
Chau emphasized that the Anaheim Convention Center “super site” – which is the county’s largest – isn’t the only one available. He pointed to separate mobile testing sites through the county’s Latino health initiative, which offer a total of 400 tests per day compared with 1,000 per day at the convention center site. Chau has previously said the mobile site appointments fill up quickly.
“Remember, the super site is not the only site that the county has. We have other sites as well. And the Latinx Equity Initiative also runs four different tests per week,” Chau said in his response at Thursday’s news conference. “And all of those sites have people who help folks to register to get tested in English, in Spanish, in Vietnamese, and by phone. And in Korean as well, because that initiative works with multi-ethnic community organizations.”
He said people misinterpreted his comments about the convention center “super site” to mean all county testing sites do not support languages besides English. At the same time, he said it’s important to make the super site available in languages besides English.
“We really need to support the super site by posting the pre-registration into different languages,” Chau said.
Two days earlier, at the county supervisors’ public meeting last Tuesday, Chau noted there were no language options besides English to sign up for testing at the Anaheim “super site,” and cited it a potential barrier that could help explain why many of the available appointments aren’t being booked.
No supervisors asked any follow up questions about it or expressed interest in making the sign-up page available in Spanish or other languages besides English.
After Chau noted the lack of translation, Supervisor Don Wagner seemed to publicly take issue with the county encouraging people who have coronavirus symptoms to get tested, saying it would likely lead to a higher rate of people testing positive – something that could delay re-opening plans.
Anaheim and nearby Santa Ana continue to be the hardest hit by coronavirus, on a per-resident basis, among all cities in Orange County, as the virus hits working class Latino neighborhoods especially hard. Many residents are essential workers, like grocery clerks and warehouse distributors, while they wrestle with trying to quarantine in overcrowded housing.
Anaheim’s infection rate is about three times higher than cities like Irvine, on a per-resident basis.
“The Latinx community and the Black community are most affected in Orange County,” Chau said at a news conference on June 30 announcing county efforts to help slow the spread in Anaheim and Santa Ana.
“Our Hispanic and Latinx communities have been at the forefront of communities that are truly affected,” Chau added.
At the same late June news conference, Supervisor Andrew Do announced the county had just signed a contract that day to translate coronavirus information into the non-English languages that are most common in Orange County.
The county’s translation contract came three months after local activists, doctors and community leaders publicly called 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.
“All of our information will be available in multiple of the main five languages in Orange County, and Spanish obviously is one of them. And that contract was executed today, actually,” Do said at the June 30 news conference.
Yet more than a month later, the sign-up page for the county’s Anaheim testing site is still not in Spanish, with neither Do nor any other supervisors raising questions when it came up at their meeting Tuesday.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.