Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Latino community feeling left behind


Say you are at home and you see this headline:


It looks important in all capital letters, and you can recognize “CORONAVIRUS.”  But what does it mean? How do you find out? A little panic and anxiety set in. And then you call over your 8-year-old daughter to tell you what it means.

That is exactly what our Spanish-dominant Latino community is experiencing right now, including having their young children with limited life experiences and worldview translate important information from English to Spanish. In fact, Latinos experience this situation every day, but it has an even higher negative impact during a health emergency like we have now. By the way, that headline means “DO YOUR PART TO SLOW THE SPREAD OF THE CORONAVIRUS.”

The coronavirus — COVID-19 — has now affected nearly every aspect of our lives – work, school, recreation, socialization, and especially health  care. Information is coming at us fast and furious – almost exclusively in English – leaving many Spanish-dominant Americans in the dark and raising anxiety and fear, as well as causing confusion and potentially continuing the spread of the virus.

Here are some key areas with priority steps your organization can take today to keep our community informed.


Communication: Provide vital information to all parties in simple, direct and clear Spanish.

Translate vital documents to employees and contractors, including: new policies for on-site vs. remote work including online conferencing platforms; screening and monitoring procedures; and what to do while awaiting results or after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

For your clients/customers/members, Share important and timely information, including: new hours and policies for access to goods and services; and changes to methods of communication and/or access to online ordering or help desk.  And remember to also provide Spanish social media messaging, that’s where Latinos hang out – online.

Warning: We have been engaged by many clients to fix poorly done translations, obviously done by simple software/apps (like Google) or an untrained person. You wouldn’t ask just anyone in your organization who speaks English to create your written communications. The same is true for your Spanish-speaking staff. Knowing the language isn’t enough. Be sure to use a professional firm and/or trained translator.

Workforce: Understand why Latinos feel the need to stay on the job – help ease their concerns.

The financial burden caused by the coronavirus will disproportionately affect Latinos, with many working-class families facing layoffs as non-essential businesses are mandated to close. Yours may be one of them.

Many Hispanics work in hotels, restaurants, tourism, and entertainment venues, as well as in building maintenance and construction. In a recent national poll, only 23% of Hispanics said they expect to continue to be paid if laid off, while most worried about losing their jobs.

Latinos make up the largest share of low-income workers – about 22%. Most worry that it would be hard to keep up with basic expenses after just a two-week absence from work.

With the rapidly increasing rates of infection, many Latinos are still on the job and may eventually have to make the difficult decision between continuing to work or staying home to care for sick loved ones. They may feel sick themselves but continue to go to work because they need the paycheck.

Spouses may need to remain at home with their school-age children, since most school districts are now closed. On top of that, parents worry about feeding their families if laid off. Nearly 2 out of 3 Latino children were receiving free or reduced-price school lunches, creating yet another burden for families whose children are now at home.

Empathy: Understand the concerns of the Latino community – offer support

There is so much information coming at us. There’s also a lot of misinformation and disinformation.  For Spanish speakers without access to vital information in their native language from trusted sources, it’s easy to be confused or even skeptical. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 70% of U.S. Latinos speak Spanish at home; it is crucial – life-or-death crucial – that our Latino communities get this valuable information as quickly as possible in ways they can understand.

Become a resource, and share accurate and reliable content, like information from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which offers multiple webpages in Spanish devoted to the coronavirus.

We already know that our Latino communities have lower access to quality health care, particularly for non-English speakers or low-wage employees. Many Latinos may be hesitant to seek preventive services or treatment for fear of a future impact related to citizenship.  So be patient, informative and very empathetic. Share resources like these:

  • Maryland Health Benefit Exchange has announced a special enrollment period during the state of emergency caused by COVID-19. Uninsured residents have an additional opportunity to sign up for coverage through Maryland Health Connection, the state-based health insurance marketplace. There is also a new Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program that can be chosen into when filing Maryland State taxes by checking a box on the form.
  • In addition, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) offers a resource for finding health centers in Maryland testing for COVID-19.

Amigos, we are living through challenging times, when many will be affected – in some cases, fatally.  Please join us in doing your part to #FlattenTheCurve. If you deal with Spanish speakers as employees or clients, please be sure to communicate clearly and empathize. It matters.

Veronica Cool is founder of Cool & Associates LLC, a business management firm specializing in financial wellness and diverse segment marketing. Her column appears each month in The Daily Record and online. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @verocool.