A Direct Line to DC’s Spanish-Speaking Community During COVID-19

Eduardo López has been producing Línea Directa—a Spanish-language television program dedicated to community outreach in the Washington, DC metropolitan area—for over thirty years. The program began in 1986 as a series of short public service announcements directed at the growing immigrant and Spanish-speaking population in the region. The shows then expanded to a 30-minute news magazine format in 1990—providing Latino families with information on their rights, as well as on important health, legal, education and social service issues. In 2000, Línea Directa began airing on the local Spanish-language station, Telemundo Washington. 

But in March 2020, something unexpected happened. The television studio where Línea Directa was produced suddenly closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, López and his team recognized that the immigrant families they served urgently needed access to accurate information about COVID-19. They decided to produce Línea Directa remotely. The producers faced many new challenges with making a television show from home—including video conferencing glitches, spotty internet service, and interviewees with sub-par computer cameras. Not only did the Línea Directa team make it work, they accelerated their schedule.

“From March until May, we were doing a new show every week because there was just chaos and confusion, and nobody knew what was going on,” said López. “Other than the local news shows, we were the only local program that was providing accurate, updated information and giving local elected officials, doctors and leaders the chance to just go on the air and talk to the community.”

Over the past two years, Línea Directa has proven to be a trusted source of COVID-19 information within the local Spanish-speaking community in DC. The program operates as part of Edu-Futuro, a Northern Virginia non-profit that supports and empowers Latino and other immigrant families through educational programs and leadership development. Today, with support from the CDC Foundation, Edu-Futuro and Línea Directa are continuing their COVID-19 reporting with a specific focus on the importance of vaccination in protecting communities from COVID-19 and influenza. 

López believes that one of the greatest obstacles to vaccine confidence among the Latino community is misinformation. Myths being shared on social media are often at odds with the science and guidance around COVID-19—leaving many people confused and unsure of what to believe. It is a problem López has witnessed firsthand.

“Much of this misinformation is being shared by family members, either in Latin America or here in the United States,” López said. “What I hear very often from my own family members is a phrase in Spanish that says ‘todo el mundo dice’—that means ‘everybody is saying’—and that has become the imprint for being trusted when, of course, that means absolutely nothing.”

To counter skepticism and promote accurate information, Línea Directa relies on interviews with local leaders and community members who can speak directly to the concerns of the viewers. For example, a recent Línea Directa episode about vaccination featured Father Vidal Rivas, a local priest and COVID-19 survivor. On the show, Rivas addressed the role religion plays in COVID-19 misinformation and spoke about the need for religious leaders to stop the spread of myths about the virus. 

“The most important voices are really the nurse, the teacher, the counselor—the people who actually have the daily contact with the community,” López said. “The community can identify with them, because in the great majority of the cases, they are immigrants themselves. They live the same life story that most of the audience has lived.”

For now, López and the Línea Directa crew are still working without a proper studio, but they refuse to let that slow down their decades-long mission of providing in-depth coverage of the issues that matter most to their viewers.

Really the purpose of the show is improving the lives of Latino families,” López said. “And that's why we keep on doing what we're doing.”

Watch the Línea Directa episode below:

 

Federal funding for this project is supported through cooperative agreement 1 NH23IP922652-01-00 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) totaling $25,660,048 with 100 percent funding from CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government