Orange County Supervisors Push For Language Translation at Main Coronavirus Test Site

Anaheim super testing site on Aug. 12, 2020.

Orange County’s lack of sign-up forms in languages other than English at the county’s largest coronavirus testing site is drawing new attention from top officials, weeks after Voice of OC first reported on it and public statements by the county’s health director that it’s a barrier for people to get tested.

Now, six weeks after the drive-through testing site opened at the Anaheim Convention Center, two county supervisors want to direct county staff to translate sign-up forms for the testing site and create a call center in multiple languages.

“Many Orange County residents are unaware of how to get a COVID-19 test or are unable to register for testing due to language and/or technological barriers,” said a report from the offices of supervisors Andrew Do and Doug Chaffee.

They brought forward the item on Tuesday’s supervisors agenda to direct county health officials to provide translation for the drive through site – as well as sign-up forms – in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese.

Do and Chaffee, who form the supervisors’ ad-hoc committee on coronavirus testing, recommended in their report for Tuesday’s meeting that the county Health Care Agency “develop a multi-lingual digital media strategy to inform residents of the two county-run drive testing options.”

The main 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. Yet about six weeks into it opening,  taken Orange County officials more than five weeks to offer a sign up form 

At a county supervisors meeting two weeks ago, Orange County’s health director, Dr. Clayton 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.

Two days later, in response to a question from Voice of OC at a county news conference on Aug. 17, Chau said the sign-up form would be posted soon in Spanish and Vietnamese, and that Korean was being looked at an option as well.

“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,” Chau said at the Aug. 17 news conference.

On Monday, a week and a half later and almost six weeks since the testing site opened, the sign-up page was still only available in English.

Asked why the translations haven’t been posted, county health officials said it takes multiple days to translate, verify and upload the translations.

The Spanish sign-up form will be posted online on Tuesday, followed by additional languages by Friday of next week, said Dr. Tamarra Jones, division manager of health promotion and community planning at the Orange County Health Care Agency, in response to written questions from Voice of OC.

“The Spanish translation will be live tomorrow, August 25, 2020. The other languages, including Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean, are anticipated to be available by September 4, 2020,” Jones wrote.

“The registration form has a significant amount of text that required several days for the translation to be completed and verified for accuracy,” she added. “Once translated, the lab must incorporate those changes into the registration system, which also takes several days to update and test before it is released for public use.”

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 have questioned 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.

In response to such questions, Chau has 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.

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 two weeks ago.

That could change at Tuesday’s meeting, which starts at 9:30 a.m.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected].