Interpreting Covid-19 (Novel Coronavirus) additional Q&A

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It was not possible to answer all the questions during the webinar, so we tried to cover all your additional questions here:

Q: What is a biological medical product or a biologic?

A: Biological products include a wide range of products such as vaccines, blood and blood components, allergenics, somatic cells, gene therapy, tissues, and recombinant therapeutic proteins. Biologics can be composed of sugars, proteins, or nucleic acids or complex combinations of these substances, or may be living entities such as cells and tissues.

Q: Remote interpretation is great, but what about when reception is not good, or when patient is a child, or the background noise cannot be controlled?

A: The remote interpreter can make a big difference when these technical and noise difficulties pop up. The provider and patient are already stressed, so a calm and reassuring interpreter can guide all parties to keep going, speak slowly and clearly, check for understanding.

The interpreter can encourage the provider to call again if the signal cuts out, if that problem is affecting the language system that day.

The interpreter should identify specific noise problems and make suggestions on how to shield the equipment, place it closer to the patient, or move the patient gurney down the hallway. A few feet can make a big difference to microphone pickup.

In tough noise situations use a corded set of two earbuds and separate the cord so that the provider and patient each has one earbud. Cords are 4 feet long, so by separating the cord, there can be about 7 feet of distance between patient and provider. Wipe down earbuds between use.

If using a phone interpreter rather than video, a great solution is to use the provider phone and the patient personal phone and have the phone interpreter service conference in the patient phone. Then both the provider and patient can hold their phones up their ears and hear more clearly.

Q: Is there a preferred platform for interpreters to use for remote interpreting due to connectivity and/or conferencing capabilities? Ex. Zoom vs WebEx vs 3rd Party?

A: Choice of platform is usually strictly controlled by the IT department in the organization, due to contracting rules, taking into consideration quality of connection and encryption for HIPAA protection. If providers are choosing their own platform, quality of signal should govern the choice, with this caveat.

HIPAA protection is not guaranteed for most ad hoc conferencing platforms, so use these guidelines to guard patient privacy: the interpreter should state to the provider at the beginning that the patient name and the name of the location of the encounter are not be mentioned during the conversation. 

Q: My follow-up question would be, how should court and conference interpreters adapt our practice? In terms of wearing masks and social distancing, how can we best protect ourselves in a crowded court room, or on the stand with a witness/defendant?

A: Guidance for wearing masks is maturing as we speak. We are now advised to wear homemade simple cloth masks everywhere, to protect those around us from our droplets rather than to protect ourselves.

An interpreter in court is in a tough situation unless she is in a booth, because normally the interpreter speaks quietly into the ear of the client as well as out loud to the court. Wearing a mask necessitates speaking in a louder and slower voice to the court. Using an interpreter microphone with earphones for the client would avoid physical proximity. The court or deposing lawyer should otherwise be providing guidance for all members of the encounter.

Use the same strict guidelines on not putting anything down on surfaces as healthcare interpreters. Wear a shoulder bag that hugs the body for your papers and necessities. Strict and frequent hand hygiene!

Q: Is the use of gloves and surgical masks (when you bring your own) recommended in regular appts even if the doctor and patient are not wearing them?

A: First, yes to wearing a mask. Healthcare workers, which includes interpreters, are  exposed to much more virus than the general public, which is a higher risk for getting infected. When appearing at an encounter request the same higher level of mask protection as the direct care staff who are in the treatment space with the patient. If the care team is wearing gloves, wear gloves. Use alcohol gel before putting on gloves and after taking them off. Do not put anything down in the treatment area or out in patient reception areas.

Q: How can we keep social distancing? In Workers Comps appts (and in mostly any appt) we interpreters sit next to patients and help them fill out a very lengthy questionnaire in a usually crowed waiting room…

A: It is very important both to not sit next to the patient AND to protect privacy for the patient. Either go outside or to the hallway to get some space while being able to speak loudly enough to converse without other people hearing. Or ask to be taken back to a room for privacy, and sit well apart. Or sit apart and use your cell phones to talk to each other quietly. Of course, ask if there is a questionnaire in the patient’s language, if the patient is literate and well enough to fill it out herself.

Q: Does COVID-19 have the potential to cross the placenta?

A: We still do not know if a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can pass the virus that causes COVID-19 to her fetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery. No infants born to mothers with COVID-19 have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. 

Q: Is it safe to receive boxes from Amazon and mail if we don’t touch nose/eyes/mouth?

A: Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods.

Q: Once you develop antibodies following infection, can you still become infected again?

A: At this time it’s too soon to know as we are still learning about the virus.

Q: What’s the difference between testing and screening for COVID-19? 

A: The screening process begins when you contact your provider to discuss your symptoms and it will begin with a series of questions. The nurse or staff member decides whether your symptoms may be due to COVID-19 or another illness requiring treatment. You might get advice on self-care since symptoms often can be treated at home. The nurse/staff member may arrange a telephone visit between you and a health care provider or tell you to call your provider directly. The provider can talk with you about possible exposure, your symptoms, and discusses treatment. The provider may give you self-care advice to use at home. Or, he or she may tell you to go to your primary care clinic or emergency to be tested. It’s important to call first so we can protect you, other patients, and medical staff from unnecessary exposure to COVID-19.

Sources: Linda Golley,,,,

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