Garfield County community members working to keep Spanish speakers informed during virus crisis |

Garfield County community members working to keep Spanish speakers informed during virus crisis

Axel Contrereas reports on the news for KQSE La Nueva Mix and does Facebook Live to answer questions and report on the coronavirus outbreak for the Spanish speaking community from a studio in his home in New Castle.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

At one point during his Spanish-language radio show a couple of weeks ago — amid the latest flurry of state public health orders related to the coronavirus — it occurred to Axel Contreras that he needed to change up the way he was delivering information.

His KQSE La Nueva Mix radio signal broadcasts throughout Garfield, Eagle and Summit counties, and the questions were coming faster than he could field them or find the people to answer them.

What exactly people are being asked to do and how it relates to public health and their own health is hard enough for the general population to understand, given the pace of evolving orders and updates. 

But it can be particularly difficult for the Latino community, Contreras said Friday as he was preparing for his daily 2-6 p.m. show from his home studio in New Castle.

“I try to answer questions, and when I can’t answer something I search everywhere I can for those answers,” he said. 

With radio, it’s hard to know how many people are listening, so he decided to try something new. 

In the middle of his radio show, he simultaneously started doing a Facebook Live newscast to further share the latest information and encourage more interaction, not only from people with questions, but from the experts who might have the answers.

“I had more than 800 people connected on the first session, and when I finished the broadcast 10,000 people had viewed it,” Contreras said. “By the next day, it had 20,000 views.”

Over the course of that first week, his broadcasts had a quarter-million views.

“(Thursday), I had the lady who is in charge of Latino outreach in Eagle County explaining the stay-at-home order, and who can go to work and who can’t,” Contreras said.

The dual format can also more effectively help dispel rumors and misinformation, which he said is just as rampant in the Spanish-speaking community as in the general population.

And, for a culture that’s highly social, it became a way to explain the importance of social distancing during the public health emergency.

“It’s just another way to have a community gathering and say, ‘let’s talk,’” Contreras said. “If I don’t know the answer, I search for the right people to find the answer.”

Other media resources for the area Spanish-speaking population have also been providing up-to-date information, including Entravision Communications’ Radio La Tricolor Aspen. The station has been focused on sifting through the state, local and federal aid programs and providing answers, Vice President Samuel Bernal-Urbina told the Aspen Times.

Bernal and others also created a Facebook public group called Coronavirus Aspen 2 Parachute Community Help to answer questions and serve as a clearinghouse for providing help to people in need. Most people are posting in Spanish but all posts can be translated.

El Montanés, a twice-monthly print publication that includes a mix of local, state and world news and locally relevant information, has also been focused on coronavirus news.

“We’ve been running stories about this since January, so we took it really seriously from the beginning,” Editor Veronica Whitney said. “It’s been our cover now for three weeks.”

Whitney said it has also been equally important to make sure her readers know about the 2020 Census. That information, and people’s participation in the Census, is even more important now, she said.

Much of the information coming from officials sources, including the county health departments and schools, is provided in Spanish in addition to English. 

Organizations such as the Valley Settlement Project and the Roaring Fork Schools Family Services have been staying in close contact with the families they serve to make sure they are informed and have the resources they need during a difficult time.

“Our work is certainly shifting, given the new crisis,” said Anna Cole, interim director for the schools-based Roaring Fork Family Services. “It was a little awkward because just as things started to escalate we went on spring break.”

Even so, each of the schools’ bilingual family liaisons worked to maintain contact with families during the past two weeks, she said.

Starting Monday, liaisons will resume regular wellness checks to make sure they know how to access resources for health and economic assistance.

“People are scared, and I imagine we will begin to see a lot of new families who are suddenly struggling,” Cole said of the economic fallout from the global pandemic and attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19 locally and statewide.

“It’s really important to get our contacts in place now, because the sense is we’re going to need those resources soon,” she said.

Part of the school district’s response will be to distribute breakfast and lunch meals five days a week to any school-aged student who needs them, starting on Monday in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

The Garfield Re-2 schools are also continuing meal distributions in Rifle, Silt and New Castle while schools remain closed due to the public health crisis.

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