CARTHAGE, Mo. — Getting accurate information about the pandemic that has rattled everyday life for four months now can be tricky, but it can be a different kind of tricky if you don’t speak English.
More than 27% of households in Carthage are Spanish-speaking, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, meaning getting information to that part of the community requires help from within that community and from translators.
The Rev. Francisco Bonilla, pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Hispano-Americana — or Hispanic American Christian Church — in Carthage, has been working since February to keep members of his church and the Spanish-speaking community informed about the coronavirus.
His church runs a low-power radio station, KCAH 96.3 FM, and Bonilla has gone on the air for several hours daily with news and information he has researched about the virus.
On Thursday, he interviewed members of a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who are working in Carthage with the Jasper County Health Department to control the recent outbreak of COVID-19 that has seen case numbers rise from about two dozen at the end of May to almost 1,000 as of Friday.
Bonilla said there is a wealth of information in Spanish for Spanish speakers on the internet, and he’s trying to help the community understand it.
“I feel like the Hispanic community needs to be aware of what's happening with this pandemic, so I started in February before the locking into houses happened and the quarantine,” Bonilla said. “Our station, KCAH 96.3, is constantly informing people."
He said he is on the air from 3 to 4 p.m. and then 6 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"I inform them what is going on," he said. "I try to analyze numbers, I try to bring news from here and from California, from New York, from Italy, from everywhere.”
Jasper County Health Department Director Tony Moehr said his office has Spanish-speaking employees, but he has also called in volunteers and people from the Carthage Police Department and Jasper County Sheriff’s Department to help.
Moehr said nearly all the department’s written information, pamphlets, social media posts and questionnaires it uses to work with patients are already written in both Spanish and English.
Where translators come in is during interviews for contact tracing and answering phone calls from residents with questions about the virus or any other health question.
“The written documentation is not that bad; it’s the verbal (oral) communication that becomes an issue,” Moehr said. “So far, with the coronavirus tests we’ve had, a good majority — almost 75% of them — have been from the Carthage area, and a good portion of those are non-English speaking people. So it does become a bottleneck in our investigations and quarantine activities."
Moehr said translators can be paired with a member of the department’s nursing staff to make phone calls to people who have tested positive and must go into isolation, or who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive and has to go into quarantine.
Translators also help answer phone calls from concerned residents with questions about any health issue.
“Our phone lines have been locked up for two or three weeks, just so many calls coming in you can’t call out,” Moehr said. “In some situations, when we have a very limited number of Spanish-speaking folks who have tested positive, then everything kind of hinges on who can we get for interpretive services.”
Getting it right
Abi Almandinger, a lifelong Carthage resident and one-time translator at the Carthage R-9 School District, said she’s volunteered a few days at the Health Department.
She said Carthage police Chief Greg Dagnan alerted her at the beginning of the current outbreak in early June that the Health Department was needing translators.
“The first day I was there, I was assigned to a contact tracer, the person who calls to get more information from people who have tested positive,” Almandinger said. “We were getting back with them to let them know their test results and find out where they had been and the different times if they could remember. It was a fairly extensive interview. It would last 15 minutes or so to ask the person all of the questions, health related questions, symptom-related questions, that type of thing.”
Almandinger said she also worked the front desk at the Health Department.
She took phone calls from Spanish-speaking callers or helped staffers when someone came to the Health Department’s locked doors for packets or information.
Almandinger had been a translator with the school district for six years, but she left that job about a year ago to become executive director of Vision Carthage, a not-fot-profit dedicated to beautifying and improving the community.
She said getting back into translating after a year where she didn’t use her Spanish language as routinely as before was a challenge.
“You get a little rusty if you don’t translate regularly,” Almandinger said. “It had been about a year since I had worked for the schools, so I’m not speaking Spanish every day now in my day-to-day job. You do have to pull from that memory bank, and you do have to think quickly on your feet. I think my biggest concern is I want to get the information exactly right because you’re talking about people’s health here. For me, it’s really important to get that very accurately relayed back to the person I’m helping.”