Calls are growing for B.C. health officials to provide culturally appropriate information that goes beyond translations to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Family physician, Dr. Birinder Narang has seen it all when it comes to people trying to make their masks comfortable or even work.

"I’ve seen tolls of paperclips, rubber bands, I’ve got cloth-based ones, elastic ones, I’m able to use that one so I’m able to wear my turban when I work," he said.

While for most people, the focus has been on what to cover, for some people, they also wondered how to properly wear a mask with their turban, hijab or other head covering.

Recently, Fraser Health came up with a poster, translated in several languages to explain best practices. A spokesperson said it came after a survey asked South Asian businesses about challenges and this issue was brought up.

Calls for culturally-appropriate information

On Twitter, Kulpreet Singh an advocate for equity in public health, was positive about the new messaging.

"Great work," he wrote. "More like this, please."

He’s also advocated for translators for the daily briefings. He’s not alone.

Narang told CTV News he’d also like to see health officials provide briefings in other languages. He’d also like officials to go beyond translations of official documents and address issues in a culturally relevant way. He’s part of the North American Sikh Medical and Dental Association which came up with advice for professions that Sikh Punjabi people take up in large numbers. 

"You don’t want to take source material in English, get someone to translate it which may be done at an academic level and that might not be accessible to the average person," he said.

He wants to see more and specific advice for people living in multi-generational homes. Narang added telling people not to gather in homes and instead meet in restaurants, also may not reflect peoples’ reality.

"There’s a certain amount of privilege associated with these messages that happen, about partying and going out," he said.

"A lot of people are disproportionately impacted don’t have that as a luxury to do."

He added, for those people, gathering at home may be their only option.

Specific information needed ahead of major holidays

Dr. Sabrina Wong is a UBC professor and co-chair of the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research. She told CTV News with case numbers rising and no sign of a vaccine anytime soon, it's time to make sure diverse communities have the information they need and in a way that speaks to them.

"With the upcoming holiday season Diwali, Christmas, etc., there needs to be work done to figure out how those celebrations can be accessible during the time of pandemic.”

Diwali is on Nov. 14. Case numbers are growing in Fraser Health, which has a large South Asian population that celebrates the holiday. In fact, it’s one of, if not the, most popular festival in India. Typically people gather at gurdwaras, mandirs, and with family to mark the occasion.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said he’d taken part in several community consultations just in the past week and said there would be more information coming soon. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry added while some of that work is happening at the local health authority level, she anticipated more culturally appropriate messaging was coming.

“We'll try and make sure that we have appropriate things coming for the initiatives that are coming up or the events that are coming up as well to support people,” she said..

Dr. Wong added given the trajectory of COVID-19, she thinks there’s no time for delay.

"Everybody's been scrambling in public health so I’m not surprised but I would be more surprised if it didn't start to happen more quickly now.”

Community consultations already happening

Behind the scenes, Fraser Health (which stretches from Burnaby to Boston Bar) has been having multiple conversations within its diverse communities.

In an email to CTV the health authority said:

"As the South Asian community makes up a large portion of people living in some of Fraser Health’s communities, we have proactively shared information through the channels listed above. In addition, we have reached out to share translated materials with:

  • Gurdwaras, temples and mosques in person and through email and WhatsApp,
  • Private Sikh schools,
  • South Asian soccer clubs,
  • Halal stores,
  • South Asian community agency partners, and
  • Fraser Health South Asian Wellness Ambassador volunteers (predominantly newcomers, who speak Punjabi, Hindi and/or Urdu) who shared information with their local community."

Calls for race-based COVID-19 data fall short

Many groups including Hogan’s Alley, the BC Human Rights Commissioner and several municipalities have all pushed for disaggregated racial data to be collected to find out how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting diverse communities. B.C. only collects this data for Indigenous people.

A voluntary survey by the province found people of colour were disproportionately financially impacted by the pandemic.

In a statement to CTV News, the health ministry said a demand on public health resources due to skyrocketing cases, meant this information would not be collected for any other racial groups.

"Dr. Henry supports the collection of this data so we can better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on racialized communities," the statement from the health ministry said.

"We continue to work with the federal government on a national framework that ensures British Columbia will collect data that protects privacy and is consistent with other provinces."