Interpreting While Social Distancing

video interpreter

Interpreting While Social Distancing

Each day, thousands of interpreters provide essential services in hospitals and courts. The interpreting done by these professionals helps limited English proficiency, LEP, people to get the medical care and justice they need. But, interpreting is often done while in close contact with both parties. How can interpreters stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic? The answer: they can practice social distancing and other good hygiene practices.

What Is Social Distancing?

Social distancing is the practice of “deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness.”[i] The US Centers for Disease Control says you can do this in a few ways:

  • Staying at least 6 feet apart from other people
  • Not gathering in groups
  • Staying out of crowded places and avoiding mass gatherings

The reason that so many US states currently have “stay-at-home” orders is to ensure social distancing. When people don’t get together or leave their homes, they stop spreading disease.

Unfortunately, essential workers like medical and legal interpreters can’t stay at home. They may have to interpret in places that were not originally intended for social distancing guidelines. Fortunately, interpreters can take some easy steps to protect themselves and others.

How to Socially Distance While Interpreting

The easiest way to socially distance while interpreting is switching to remote interpreting from onsite. Many hospitals have no choice but to switch to remote interpreting because of a lack of personal protective equipment, PPE. The New York Times explained that LEP patients in intensive care are relying on interpreters to communicate with doctors and loved ones before being put on ventilators or changing treatment. The only thing an interpreter needs for over-the-phone interpreting is a mobile phone able to run an application and quiet space. Visit the Acutrans website if you’re able to interpret remotely today.

If you’re not able to switch to interpreting remotely, you can still stay safe in the hospital environment. When interpreting in normal appointments, interpreters may shake hands as a greeting or goodbye – do not do that. Instead, wave or nod hello and goodbye or use a vocal greeting. When entering and exiting rooms, maintain at least 6 feet apart from others. 6 feet is roughly the length between two people if they stretched out their arms fully and touched fingertips. When interpreting, stand as far away from the patient and practitioner as possible. Remember to speak up when this is the case because masks can muffle your voice. Also, because masks cover your mouth, speak more loudly and slowly than normal to ensure there are no misunderstandings.

In addition to socially distancing, interpreters should take other steps to stop the spread of infection. First, you should always wear PPE when inside the hospital. This means interpreters should wear masks, gowns, gloves, and, if possible, a face covering and booties. Also, make sure you wash or sanitize your hands between each human interaction, including with medical staff. Take off an immediately wash all clothes you wore in a hospital when you return home. Thoroughly sanitize all objects you brought with you to the hospital including your wallet, phone, and bag. For more information about how to protect yourself, read our previous blog post “Keeping Safe as an Interpreter During the COVID-19 Pandemic”.


During this pandemic, Acutrans is in the front lines along with doctors in the fight to keep people healthy. Our interpreters, many of them former doctors, are trained to handle any situation – including covid-19. Our on-site, telephonic, and video interpreting are helping patients and doctors to communicate. In addition, our translation department is able to translate any documents needed in the fight against covid-19. Visit our website for your free quote today.


[i] “Coronavirus – What Social Distancing Means” (