Group trying to get COVID-19 health messaging to local non-English speakers

Getting information about the COVID-19 pandemic has been confusing for many people, but it's particularly difficult for non-English speaking people who may be new to Waterloo region, the CEO of the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre says.

Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre regularly calls community members but can't reach everyone

Lucia Harrison, right, is the CEO of the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre. In this file photo from October 2019, she is seen speaking with CBC K-W's Craig Norris and Carmen Groleau. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Getting information about the COVID-19 pandemic has been confusing for many people, but it's particularly difficult for non-English speaking people who may be new to Waterloo region, the CEO of the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre says.

Data collected and analyzed by Region of Waterloo Public Health about the COVID-19 pandemic shows new immigrants to the region have a higher number of cases than the general population.

Multicultural Centre CEO Lucia Harrison says staff with the centre have been doing regular check-ins with people who have interacted with the centre in the past.

"[We're] just trying to reach people who have limited English skills, [who] may not have access to information, just to make sure that they're connected to the various things in the community," she said.

But she worries there's a large group of people who are new immigrants who don't know their services exist and the centre, in turn, doesn't have those people on their radar.

"We have reached out, as have other groups, to places of worship. I think one of the things that we're really hoping for is that word of mouth spreads the word that there are supports, there are people available, you just have to reach out. But it's hard," she said.

Regional public health staff say they have also been trying to reach non-English speaking residents by working with the Immigration Partnership group to make sure there are translated materials on the region's website.

"Sometimes we do the translation by working with K-W Multicultural Centre and other times we locate a reliable resource via the ministry that is already available in translated formats," Julie Kalbfleisch, manager of information and communications for the region's public health and emergency services, said in an email.

Calls about CERB, EI

Harrison says the centre saw a large influx of calls over emergency financial benefits. Many people were confused about how to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or employment insurance.

They've also worked with immigration services at the YMCA and with Sanctuary Refugee Health Clinic to hold virtual group meetings to talk about mental health and COVID-19.

Increased cases among recent immigrants

Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said earlier this week there is "a moderate degree of correlation" between the number of COVID-19 cases and people who recently immigrated to the region.

People living on low incomes also had a higher number of cases.

"There are many factors that influence COVID-19 incident rates and not all neighbourhoods with low income or higher proportions of immigrants have higher COVID-19 rates," said Wang.

She said immigrants or people who earn a low income aren't more likely to contract the virus.

Offer help, CEO says

Harrison said one thing they've found is non-English speaking people are not turning to predominantly English websites for information and translating them using, say, Google Translate.

Instead, they're often relying on information passed on to them by friends, or they may read, watch or listen to news in their first language. Those media sources may be giving different information than local public health officials, she said.

She said people in the community can help spread the word about local services.

"If you've got neighbours, if you've got people down the street who do not speak English, there are ways that you can reach out and just make sure they're OK, help them connect to services," she said.

You don't need to be intrusive, Harrison said, but it's OK to offer help.

Listen to the interview with Lucia Harrison:

New immigrants have seen more cases of COVID-19 than the general population in Waterloo region. Lucia Harrison, the CEO of the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre, says staff have been calling people across the region to help them get critical health information as well as help them with other questions. 7:23


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