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Suffolk, LI group push Spanish-language outreach to slow spread of COVID-19 

Suffolk's Department of Labor and the HIA-LI trade group host bilingual presentations at several Long Island workplaces to help Spanish-speaking employees learn about COVID-19 prevention. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

At a recent Spanish-language presentation about COVID-19 prevention in Hauppauge, Gloria Ferreira listened in rapt attention as a Suffolk county official shared health and safety tips.

With a mask on and a pamphlet in hand, Ferreira, a wire specialist at the Hauppauge plant of aerospace manufacturer Parker Hannifin, was among a group of about 30 of her colleagues attending the presentation on the workplace’s front lawn, where Angela Ramos of the Suffolk County Department of Labor addressed the crowd.

The best part of the presentation, Ferreira said, was “understanding every single word.”

"Being that Spanish is my first language, it was much easier for me to understand the information without having to decipher some of the English words I don't quite grasp the meaning of," Ferreira said in Spanish. 

"All the information I was given today relating to COVID [prevention] … I was able to understand every word, everything. For me, this was excellent."

The presentation at Parker Hannifin — an employer of about 200 Long Islanders — is part of a three-week-old initiative led by the HIA-LI trade group and Suffolk's Department of Labor aimed at bringing information "about how to protect yourself from the virus," to Spanish-speaking employees at Long Island firms.

The idea for the initiative was born when HIA-LI CEO Terri Alessi-Miceli noticed an uptick in messages from group members, "expressing concern that many assembly line employees," many of them native Spanish speakers, "didn't seem to be up to speed on the basics of preventing the virus' spread," Alessi-Miceli said. 

"We found out that for those [who live] in vulnerable areas … many of them, who work right here in the Long Island Innovation Park in Hauppauge, they need that information and it needs to be disseminated in a way that they can understand it, in their language," she said.

"We can't have a strong economic recovery without these workers being healthy and without ensuring that they know proper ways to stay healthy, not only when they're at work but also when they're out and about in the community."

At the same time, Suffolk County officials charged with managing the pandemic also had been developing ideas on sharing accurate information about COVID-19 in Spanish.

One key aspect of the presentations is dispelling misconceptions some employees have about the virus, said Ramos, who's performed about 15 of the hourlong, Spanish-language presentations.

"Some told me they thought children could not spread the virus, others said they were confused by President [Donald] Trump's mixed messaging on the effectiveness of face-coverings, and a few of them said they believed the crisis was over," Ramos said.

"There's definitely a lot of misinformation about what precautions they should be taking, which is why this grassroots effort aimed at helping this hardworking segment of the Long Island workforce become informed is so important." 

Studies have shown the pandemic has had a greater mortality rate in minority communities, hitting Blacks and Hispanics throughout the country harder than whites.

On the Island, Hispanic population centers suffered some of the highest rates of coronavirus cases, according to a Newsday analysis of county and state data, which showed that six heavily Hispanic communities in Suffolk and five in Nassau were among the Island’s hardest hit based on the prevalence of infections. 

For information on scheduling a bilingual COVID-19 prevention presentation, employers can contact Angela Ramos at 631-206-4913 or at angela.ramos@suffolkcountyny.gov., or reach HIA-LI's Terri Alessi-Miceli at 631-543-5355. All presentations are free.

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