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Latest coronavirus news for July 17, 2020: Live updates

News

10:10 a.m. Office workers must adjust with taller cubicles, one-way aisles

Bergmeyer, a design firm in Boston, has erected higher cubicles, told employees to wear masks when not at their desks and set up one-way aisles in the office that force people to walk the long way around to get to the kitchen or the bathroom.

“The one-way paths take me a little out of the way, but it was easy to get used to,” said Stephanie Jones, an interior designer with the company. “It actually gives me the opportunity to see more people and say a quick hello when I might have just walked directly to my desk before.”

Architectural designer Erica Shannon, front, works at a computer as accounting manager Andrea Clark, top, speaks with a colleague at the design firm Bergmeyer, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, at the company’s offices, in Boston. AP

Around the U.S., office workers sent home when the coronavirus took hold in March are returning to the world of cubicles and conference rooms and facing certain adjustments: masks, staggered shifts, spaced-apart desks, daily questions about their health, closed break rooms and sanitizer everywhere.

For some at least, there are also advantages, including the opportunity to share chitchat with colleagues again or the ability to get more work done.

Employers in some cases are requiring workers to come back to the office, but most, like Bergmeyer, are letting the employees decide what to do, at least for now. Some firms say the risks and precautions are worth it to boost productivity and move closer to normal.

8:30 a.m. Language barriers, fear hinders immigrant contact tracing

Only a handful of contact tracers working to slow COVID-19 in 125 communities near Chicago speak Spanish, despite significant Hispanic populations. Churches and advocacy groups in the Houston area are trying to convince immigrants to cooperate when health officials call. And in California, immigrants are being trained as contact tracers to ease mistrust.

The crucial job of reaching people who test positive for the coronavirus and those they’ve come in contact with is proving especially difficult in immigrant communities because of language barriers, confusion and fear of the government.

The failure of health departments across the U.S. to adequately investigate coronavirus outbreaks among non-English speakers is all the more fraught given the soaring and disproportionate case counts among Latinos in many states. Four of the hardest-hit states — Florida, Texas, Arizona and California — have major Spanish-speaking populations.

In the ZIP code with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland, 56% of adults speak Spanish. But only 60 of Maryland’s 1,350 contact tracers speak Spanish.

And the language barriers go beyond Spanish: Minneapolis needs tracers who also speak Somali, Oromo and Hmong, Chicago needs Polish speakers and Houston’s Harris County is grappling with a population that includes Vietnamese, Chinese and Hindi speakers.

But even when health officials overcome language barriers, they still must dispel the deep suspicions raised among immigrants when someone with the government calls to ask about their movements in an era of hardline immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump.

“It should come as no surprise that people may be afraid to answer the phone,” said Dr. Kiran Joshi, senior medical officer at the Cook County Department of Public Health, which serves 2.4 million people in communities just outside Chicago.


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