OKLAHOMA CITY -Jorge Hernandez said Spanish speakers in the area are so thirsty for information about the COVID-19 outbreak that he's organizing Facebook Live meetings in Spanish.
His twice-weekly chats have included a state lawmaker, a representative from the Oklahoma City-County Health Department and a police officer.
Hernandez, who is president of Tango Public Relations, said there's a lot of critical information that needs to be disseminated about the quickly evolving situation. However, he said Spanishspeaking residents haven't always been able to find critical, timely information in their native language on state websites.
'We definitely don't want to seem that we're pointing the finger at anyone, but hopefully this will show how valuable it is,' he said.
Hernandez's chats, meanwhile, have become the go-to source of current COVID-19 information for many Hispanic residents living in Oklahoma City area.
'Our community is hungry,' Hernandez said. 'Our community wants (current information in Spanish). Our community needs it if we're going to keep safe.'
In all, an estimated 440,000 Oklahomans identified as Latino or Hispanic in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics make up the second largest group in the state behind whites.
But advocates said the state is failing to provide current COVID-19 health information in Spanish. While the State Department of Health offers some fact sheets in Spanish, much of its up-to-date information seems to be provided only in English, they said.
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt also recently started offering Spanish translations of his COVID-19 speeches.
Yuliana Reyes, director of health programs at the Latino Community Development Agency, said the state did well at the start of the outbreak. Officials disseminated information in Spanish using tools like posters that explained COVID-19, its general symptoms and how to stop the spread.
These days, Reyes said she's fielding a lot of phone calls from people who have symptoms and don't know where to go to get tested. Mobile testing site information appears to be in English as well.
'And everything is changing on a 24-hour basis,' Reyes said. Spanish-speaking Oklahomans are relying on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, which offers information in Spanish; President Donald Trump's presentations, which are also translated; or local Spanish media outlets, she said.
Shelley Zumwalt, the chief of innovation who is working on behalf of the Oklahoma State Department
of Health, said the state offers nearly 30 different Spanish language COVID-19 resources that include guidance to churches and an explainer of the differences between coronavirus, flu and allergies.
'Our (communications) team has been working with Spanish language outlets on content and our social media team is pushing out much of our messaging (infographics) that has been translated to Spanish,' she said.
Jorge Cruz, who is running for state House in a primarily Hispanic district in Oklahoma City, said most COVID-19 information is spreading through word of mouth and social media. News is traveling slowly in some cases.
'I've seen people complain or express that there's not a unified message because it sounds like there's a lot of different (business) loans and a lot of different health (information) and a lot of different suggestions and rules on what you can and cannot do,' he said.
Cruz said he can see how it can be confusing when only bits and pieces of information are flowing.
David Castillo, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the state Health Department has done an excellent job disseminating information. But the state has not distributed any information in Spanish to Hispanic business owners about small business loans, grants or other resources available.
More needs to be done to get information out to the more than 10,000 Hispanic business owners statewide, he said.
'There needs to be something done from the state,' Castillo said. 'There's a need for information out there in Spanish. Many of your Hispanic business owners don't speak English … and if they do, they prefer their information in Spanish.'
And Castillo said time is of the essence when spreading the word about business financial assistance because programs run out of money very quickly.
His group is holding webinars and Facebook Live meetings trying to spread the word. While the last virtual meeting had 600 participants, that's only a small percentage of the overall number of business owners in Oklahoma, Castillo said.
'We can only do so much,' he said. 'There needs to be more done statewide to be able to get information out.'
He expects about a third of Hispanic-owned businesses to fail during the COVID-19 crisis.