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JUNTOS delivers COVID-19 information to Kansas City’s Spanish-speaking population

The JUNTOS Center for Advancing Latino Health at KU Medical Center, whose mission is to eliminate health disparities in under-served Latino communities in Kansas, is working to deliver COVID-19 information to these communities in their native language.

Image of painted mural of Kansas City, Kansas community Layout
Mural depicting Kansas City, Kansas, community

Most Americans have access to so much news and evolving recommendations about the coronavirus pandemic that it can be hard just to keep up. But keeping informed is critical to knowing how best to avoid the virus. 

Getting accurate information about the coronavirus is even tougher if you're not proficient in English.

In the Kansas City area, nearly 6% of the population speak Spanish as their primary language. In Wyandotte County, home to the Kansas City campus of the University of Kansas Medical Center, the percentage is far higher. Nearly one-quarter of residents are Spanish speakers. And close to 15% report that they can speak English "less than very well," according to data from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census.

When a language barrier prevents people from getting critical information about COVID-19 virus, including guidelines for prevention, it puts them at a higher risk of infection. Many of these residents rely on community services, such as free school lunches for children. With school closings and stay-at-home orders, those services have changed or ceased, and residents need to know what provisions are available now.

"With these kinds of inequities and health disparities, the coronavirus could hit the county hard," said Erin Corriveau, M.D., MPH, a physician in the family medicine and community health department at the KU School of Medicine and deputy medical officer for Wyandotte County. "So one thing we're doing is working with JUNTOS to get the word out in Spanish."

The JUNTOS Center for Advancing Latino Health at KU Medical Center, whose mission is to eliminate health disparities in under-served Latino communities in Kansas, is working to deliver COVID-19 information to these communities in their native language.

Working with local government to share COVID-19 information

Mariana Ramirez, LMSW, director of JUNTOS, has witnessed the need personally as well as through her work. "I had a meeting with some members of my parish, and one [Latina] mother was asking what the symptoms are for COVID-19. I was thinking, wow, that information has been available for weeks," Ramírez said. "Recently, several people who have tested positive with COVID-19 have reached out with questions about how to prevent the spread at home and when to stop isolation. They don't know what to do or who to ask about it."

In addition to creating and sharing materials about the coronavirus in Spanish through JUNTOS social media, Ramirez and her colleagues at JUNTOS worked with the Unified Government Public Health Department, which serves Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, to create a Spanish version of the COVID-19 section of its website.

Besides news and clinical information about the virus, the new content in Spanish also includes information about stay-at-home orders, local testing sites and an online form for residents to report symptoms before seeing a doctor so the health department can call them and provide guidance.

Laura Espinosa and Valeria Macias, who completed medical school in Mexico and are interning at JUNTOS for one year, reached out to community leaders and organizations such as the Latino Health for All and the Central Avenue Betterment Association to compile a list of frequently asked questions (and answers) to add to the site as well as to distribute through other Spanish-language media. 

Getting experts on Spanish-speaking media outlets

JUNTOS also arranged for Corriveau to be a guest on the Salud Hispana radio show on La Mega, a Spanish-speaking radio station in Kansas City. Corriveau presented basic information on the virus and answered questions from Spanish-speaking listeners from all over the Kansas City metropolitan area, with the radio host translating the questions into English for Corriveau and then her answers back into Spanish for the audience. 

Ramirez was the translator for a similar interview Corriveau did on the local affiliate of Univision, a Spanish-language television station. Corriveau and Allen Greiner, M.D., MPH, professor and vice chair of family medicine at the KU School of Medicine and medical officer for Wyandotte County, did a Facebook Live event about COVID-19 for JUNTOS. At JUNTOS request, a local bilingual newspaper shared information about COVID-19 in their pages.

Ramirez noted that many of the questions the Latino community has are not about the virus itself, but about impacts of the virus, such as the stay-at-home order. "A lot of Latinos work in the service industry and they are affected by the ordinance," Ramirez said. "They want to know, ‘How do you define essential versus non-essential?' It's hard for them when they aren't able to ask those questions."

Before the coronavirus hit, JUNTOS, in partnership with Dykes Library, had secured funding from the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health's All of Us Research Program to produce JUNTOS-RADIO, a podcast in Spanish, the goal of which is to link the community with health professionals. Their first podcast was a discussion about COVID-19 with Armando Villanueva, M.D., a Spanish-speaking internal medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at the KU School of Medicine who grew up in Wyandotte County. An upcoming podcast will be about how to stay healthy during the stay-at-home order.

Establishing health ministries in the community

Another way to reach people in the community is through the community's own social structure, in particular its strong church infrastructure. This will be helpful not just in communicating information, but in coordinating social services with people who need them. "My colleague Monica Fracachan Cabrera [a research assistant at JUNTOS] and I are working with the Hispanic Archdiocese in Kansas City to develop health ministries in different parishes," Ramirez said. "The idea is to have a ministry that would check on people in the parish and refer to resources in the community." 

On April 20, the health ministry they established in the Todos los Santos parish hosted the first pop-up COVID-19 testing in the community in partnership with Vibrant Health and the health department.

For Corriveau, the pandemic has been a lesson in how much is involved in getting health messages through to people. "This kind of pandemic and situation is changing so rapidly, it's about being continually available at the request of the community," she said. "I'll know we have done our job when we have earned the trust of all community members, including those whose first language is not English." 

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