ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Many Latino and Marshallese people in Arkansas may not fully understand the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic because of a language barrier.
Earlier this week, two COVID-19 deaths were of Marshallese and Latino descent, both from Washington County.
UAMS Associate Professor Sheldon Riklon said defining the terms, “quarantine,” “isolation,” is a challenge. “It is more about public education and public outreach.”
Springdale’s Marshallese Consulate General Eldon Alik said the pandemic is a challenge, “We are a tight knit family and community … all of this social distancing is new to us.”
On Thursday, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced a two-day testing campaign should people think they have COVID-19 symptoms. He also said there would be no cost for those who didn’t have medical insurance. “If you need to be tested, you get tested,” said University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Dr. Cam Patterson.
This is something the Marshallese community had requested when they wrote a letter to state elected officials.
Nearly two dozen businesses and non-profits, and several individuals, mostly from Springdale, sent the letter to Governor Asa Hutchinson, Rep. Steve Womack (AR-3), and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R) in mid-April requesting enhanced COVID-19 protections, and procedures, for the Marshallese communities.
“We know that our social and health care systems are not set up to sufficiently support the Marshallese communities living in Arkansas,” the letter states written on behalf of the Marshallese COVID-19 Task Force.
The task force mentions a 2018 revision that was made to Medicaid that allows access for children — a program that was omitted in the 1996 Freely Associated States (FAS) agreement with the United States — however, the 2018 revision didn’t include adults which means many low-income Marshallese and FAS families don’t have access to health insurance.
The task force would prefer a federal legislation update to the law, however, during the pandemic they’re asking for FAS citizens to be eligible for COVID-19 testing and treatment.
Another request by the task force is added resources in Marshallese and other languages for the FAS community. “Without public health information targeted to them, many will not understand the severity of this situation or how to get testing,” according to the letter. For example a doctor may not speak Marshallese making it difficult to explain the severity of COVID-19, should a person become infected with the virus.
The governor mentioned that the state plans to get information out in Spanish and Marshallese about COVID-19.
Latinos make up 36% of Springdale’s population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data — nearly 30,000 people.
The Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas (HWOA) has been reaching out the community about COVID-19 — in Spanish through its Facebook page:
HWOA’s Director Margarita Solorzano said times are difficult for the community in general. Especially for Latinos, and other communities, in trying to understand and have a better sense of what is the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As you can imagine, speaking another language adds to the confusion and sometimes the information gets to the Spanish speaking community in bits and pieces,” said Solorzano.
She has been active with the Latino community and is part of the COVID-19 Task Force in NWA and with the Arkansas Health Department.
“We have been checking that employers provide essential workers the protective gear while performing their work.”
Solorzano admits the task has been tough, but it is important to ensure the all members of the community are safe, fed and connected.
HWOA doesn’t just help Spanish speakers they offer information in other languages, too.
The Hesperian Health Guides, based in Berkeley California and founded in 1973, offers health guidance for people around the world. It is published in more than 80 languages. It has a page dedicated to COVID-19.
Another resource is Equality Labs, it has a medically vetted series of the new coroavirus information in several languages.