When it became clear that COVID-19 was going to be a major threat to public health back in early March 2020, leaders in hard-hit King County knew that it would be critical to get accurate information out quickly to the community. Soon after, employees from across County departments came together to form the Language Access Team – an effort to translate and disseminate important health information in multiple languages to reach as many community members as possible. 

“Language Access is about operationalizing equity,” said Senayet Negusse, the Language Equity Program Manager, who started at King County on March 17 at the beginning of the pandemic. 

“It is our job as a local government entity to be inclusive and responsive to the needs of the community,” she continued.

While many of the nine members of the Language Access Team – which includes six PROTEC17 members – speak multiple languages themselves, their main role is to build and grow relationships with community leaders who in turn provide high quality translations that will resonate within their community. Leaders also provide invaluable input on the changing needs of their communities so that the Team can make continuous improvements to their processes and systems. So far, COVID-19 resources have been translated into 33 languages. 

“Multilingual resources are important for the same reason that resources in English are important: all people need access to information,” said PROTEC17 member Francesca Collins, who works for Seattle-King County Public Health (SKCPH) as an Educator Consultant.

Collins, along with fellow SKCPH Educator Kari Kesler, joined the team bringing their skills and knowledge as public health practitioners, as well as their equity and social justice lenses.  

As a long-time community advocate and activist, Amanda Kay, PROTEC17 member and Administrative Specialist III, jumped at the opportunity to join the team. She lends her expertise in systems development to streamline the flood of work that needs to get done. 

PROTEC17 member Andrea Gerber, who has been a Health Educator in the SKCPH Family Planning program for over 25 years, volunteered for the Team because she heard that people were working around the clock to translate COVID-19 information and wanted to lend a hand. 

“Everyone should be able to receive information from their local government – in the languages that they speak, and in a manner that is clear and relevant – about how to avoid COVID-19, get care for themselves or their loved ones, and access resources,” said Gerber. 

“If we do not deliver this information in a linguistically and culturally appropriate way to all communities, many residents will be excluded from the ability to protect themselves and loved ones,” added PROTEC17 member Marlee Fischer, a Project/Program Manager with the County’s Emergency Medical Services. 

Thanks to the team, which also includes Carmaleta Aguilar (PROTEC17), Crystal Jones, and Peggy Liao, King County communities have been better able to stay informed during the pandemic.