People with limited English proficiency in the United States have suffered disproportionate negative health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective communications are critical tools in addressing inequities insofar as they can motivate the adoption of protective behaviors and reduce the incidence of disease; however, little is known about the experiences of communities with limited English proficiency receiving relevant information during COVID-19 or other outbreaks.

To address this gap and provide inputs for communication strategies, we completed a study based on 2 novel and nationally representative surveys conducted between June and August 2020 among Spanish and Chinese speakers with limited English proficiency (n = 764 and n = 355, respectively).

Results first showed that Spanish and Chinese speakers did not consistently receive information about protective behaviors from key public health and government institutions early in the pandemic. Second, for such information, Spanish and Chinese speakers used a diverse set of information resources that included family and friends, social media, and traditional media from both inside and outside the United States. Third, Spanish and Chinese speakers faced challenges getting COVID-19 information, including receiving media messages that felt discriminatory toward Latinx or Chinese people.

Together, these findings suggest gaps in effectively reaching Spanish and Chinese speakers. Data highlight the important role of bilingual materials to support sharing of information between Spanish or Chinese speakers and English speakers within their social networks, and the need for digital news content for traditional and social media. Finally, efforts are needed to address discriminatory messaging in media and to actively counter it in public health communications.