COVID-19 for Translators and Interpreters

By Gloria M. Rivera

We are currently living strange times where a very tiny creature is endangering our lives and changing life as we know it. Many entities from schools and banks to hospitals and courts have had to communicate with the people they serve to help them deal with this unexpected coronavirus situation.

This is why us, translators and interpreters, have to be familiarized with coronavirus and understand many things we may not have seen since biology in high school. As this is a new virus and disease, there is not much information known about it and, maybe, by the time you read this most of the information will have changed.

But, worry not, here is a summary of the basics you need to know.

Is it a virus a bacteria?

There are many different organisms in nature. Some cause disease in humans, called pathogens, and some don’t. The most common ones are bacteria and virus.

A bacteria is a living organism that has the necessary components (i.e. genetic material, organelles, etc.) to reproduce, live, and survive by itself. On the other hand, a virus is a much smaller organism that is not alive; it is genetic material (DNA or RNA) inside a protein envelope.

What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus is the name of a family of viruses and, as any family, it has many members. Of the 7 types that affect humans, SARS-CoV-2 or Novel coronavirus is the one that is causes COVID-19.

It is called Novel coronavirus because it was first identified on December 2019 in Wuhan, China.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the name of the disease and it stands for COrona Virus 2019. On February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the official name of the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is COVID-19.

“As this is a new virus and disease, there is not much information known about it and, maybe, by the time you read this most of the information will have changed.” And it has!

How is SARS-CoV-2 transmitted?

SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that is transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. So, the little drops that come out of your upper respiratory system when you talk, sneeze, or cough contain this virus. So the virus can infect a person when he/she inhales the respiratory droplets (through the mouth or nose and into the lungs) or when a person touches a surface that has the droplets with virus on it  (for example, if someone sneezed on a handrail) and then touches his/her mouth, nose, or eyes.

It was thought that only symptomatic people (people who have symptoms) could transmit it, but now it is known that people who do not exhibit any symptoms (asymptomatic people) can also transmit the virus.

When do the symptoms of COVID-19 start?

COVID-19 can cause no symptoms to severe illness and death. The incubation period (time when the virus invades to when it starts causing symptoms) is estimated from 10-14 days.

What are the main symptoms of COVID-19?

The symptoms of this disease are mainly of an upper respiratory disease: Fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Fewer people also exhibit aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea.

Can symptoms get worse?

Yes, symptoms can be more intense in people 65 or older and people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and who are immunocompromised (for example, people undergoing cancer treatment or with immune diseases).

What are warning signs?
Warning signs are observable features that indicate that the person needs to seek medical attention immediately. Some of these warning signs are having trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse or having a bluish lips or face (cyanosis).

How is the disease diagnosed?

A disease is diagnosed through signs (objective evidence of disease) and symptoms (subjective evidence of disease). Epidemiological evidence, such as travel, exposure, location, can also help with diagnosis.
For diagnosing the disease the respiratory specimen is obtained from a sample from a nasopharyngeal swab. Testing is reserved for people at their provider’s discretion.

What is the treatment for COVID-19? [See Note below]

Treatment of this disease is supportive; this means that symptoms are treated. Currently, there is no vaccine, no antiviral drug (a drug to kill a virus), or any other specific treatment available. If you are diagnosed with the disease you must stay at home until you are no longer at risk of infecting others.

How is this disease prevented?

As I mentioned, we know that this virus spreads from person-to-person. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following:

  • Wear a mask, whether you have symptoms or not. The virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
  • Do not be in close contact with other people. Stay within about 6 feet (2 meters). Remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread virus.
  • Clean your hands often. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Author’s Note: This article was published in Proteus, the Quarterly Newsletter of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) on August 21st 2020.

As this is a new virus, we continue learning new things about it every day. Therefore, in the area about “Treatment and Prevention” I mentioned there was no vaccine available when I wrote the article. Thankfully, I have been fully vaccinated since January 2021.  The last time I reviewed it was August 11, 2021.

For more up-to-date information, please visit the resources below.