The Will County Health Department is continuing to work toward ensuring that its emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic is communicated to the public in both English and Spanish.
The ongoing outreach efforts are meant to help slow the spread of the virus among communities of color.
Will County is home to a number of people who speak English as a second language.
“We’ve been making sure our communications are updated and available,” said Carrie Jackson, a program manager and resource coordinator for COVID-19 at the Will County Health Department.
Jackson said the county health department’s response was not fully organized the way it is now.
In July, the health department started expanding its team with additional staffers to respond to the emergency prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jackson was hired by the Will County Health Department around that time.
“We were just getting our team set the end of July trying to get up to speed with everything,” she said. “I don’t know what communication was like before the end of July.”
Jackson said staff at the health department had their set responsibilities and programs to run and oversee, but were asked to fill in where needed to cover the hotlines and other duties when the pandemic first hit.
Veronica Gloria, the executive director of the Spanish Community Center in Joliet, acknowledged the situation facing the health department and said she hopes translation is prioritized more going forward.
“They’re now starting to translate,” she said. “It’s imperative.”
She said she heard many people questioning if COVID-19 is a hoax.
“That was where the information in the beginning would have been helpful,” Gloria said.
The health department’s outreach efforts have varied to include anything from informational flyers and posters to county website and social media posts.
The health department also has done outreach at food banks and mobile food pantry events that pop up in the area.
“My role there has been getting the information into people’s hand where they can go for testing besides the health department or other community organizations,” she said. “I pass out flyers with free testing sites, I pass out masks, and I pass out mini hand sanitizers.”
Jackson is one of three program managers brought on by the county to do outreach.
“I’ve served over 1,000 families,” she said. “Every family has the flyer with the testing sites. We’ve given out over 1,500 adult masks and 425 kids’ masks.”
Jackson said translation has been at issue for the county health department and part of its efforts to do outreach at events.
“I’ve been all over the county and met Spanish speaking people, but there I realized I need to get this flyer and survey cards translated,” she said. Jackson said it helps that she can speak a bit of Spanish.
Jackson said that anything she passes out to people has now been translated to Spanish.
The county health department is also working to translate and schedule social media and website posts.
Gloria said the county health department’s efforts have improved, but further work is needed.
“I think it has to be an ongoing effort from various people to disseminate information, just like we did with the Census or getting out the vote,” she said.
One flyer, for example, may not work in spreading a message to everyone that needs to hear it, Gloria said.
The Spanish Community Center has been partnering with area hospitals and clinics to assist with outreach efforts, she said.
Gloria said the more people are engaged, the better.
“It’s not specific to this county or to this issue,” she said. “It’s any time you’re trying to disseminate information.”