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COVID: Bilingual Outreach Teams Get Vital Information To More South Bay Residents

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- As COVID-19 case counts continue to drop and the vaccine rollout scales up, Santa Clara County is also ramping up its "Community Health And Business Engagement Teams," bilingual outreach teams to fan out across East San Jose, Gilroy and other hardest hit areas.

Since August, a hundred team members have walked neighborhoods and visited businesses, going to door-to-door to answer questions about the virus. On Tuesday, the county added another 30 workers.

County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the teams, which had previous success with outreach for the US Census and breast cancer screening, had reported that citizens were asking basic questions about the disease, testing and vaccines. Forty percent of the county's households are foreign-born, according to Chavez.

"Which means that people who speak a language other than English aren't getting the same level of information about COVID-19 as the English speaking world," said Chavez.

San Jose City Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, who helps lead the Latino outreach teams, said during their visits, members sometimes encounter feelings of fear and mistrust of government.

"I don't want to harp on the last four years, but the federal administration that we just had didn't help with the ongoing, onslaught of attacks on this very community. It made this community fearful of coming out of the shadows. And so, they mistrust the government, whether it was the census being counted or going out and getting a vaccine," said Carrasco.

The outreach teams typically travel in groups of two or three, and are bilingual in Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog. They also help the businesses stay compliant with current health orders by checking on signage and other requirements.

Florence Tran said she has learned to let community members vent and communicate their frustrations, and that speaking their native language helps to break down barriers.

"If they see someone that looks like them can speak their language, their guard is down, and they're willing to share a little bit more about their story, than if someone who just came and gave them a bunch of English literature and spoke English and then didn't understand," said Tran.

Majer Singh, owner of Jewel of India restaurant, likened the in-person visits to a show of respect.

"Actually when you do face to face that's a big impression. Sometimes the emails don't work that much, not like when we meet each other," said Singh.

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