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    July 25, 2020

    IMPERIAL COUNTY — As Imperial County looks into ways to lessen the surge of coronavirus cases, one group has introduced an educational advertising campaign aimed particularly at low-income Latinos who may not necessarily speak English and who are not engaging with recent public health orders.

    Listos California, a campaign anchored in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Office of Emergency Services, expanded its partnership with the California Department of Public Health to produce billboards, followed by a Loteria card game to help increase awareness of how to stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The cards will include safety messages in “Spanglish” — such as “La Mascarilla: Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth cover” and “La Distancia: Maintain a distance of six feet between people,” to remind those living in and traveling to Imperial County of the best ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

    To help convey the message, organizers contacted artist Mark Beltran, who was born and raised in El Centro, to create billboards that could be posted at advantageous locations around Imperial County.

    The billboards focus on three areas: wearing a face covering, washing hands and maintaining a social distancing of six feet.

    Rob Zimmer of the billboard company Spectrum Advertising spearheaded the effort in placing the 11 billboards around the county, including two on Bradshaw Drive near the Walmart in El Centro and one on Dogwood Avenue across from the Imperial Valley Mall.

    Zimmer said Listos California organizers decided to begin the statewide program in Imperial County because of its increased high positive rate and the cultural makeup of the community.

    Beltran, who created the billboard design himself, said he jumped at the opportunity to help his hometown, where his parents still live.

    “They wanted me to create billboards for Imperial County and San Diego,” he said, adding others in the community decided where to place them.

    When creating the billboards, Beltran wanted them to stand out, so that residents would take a second look and not forget what they had just seen.

    He thinks the public will pay more attention to something that is artistically done with all the colors.

    The design he created is meant to cause the public to take a second look, especially children who can share what they saw with their parents and grandparents.

    “It’s just to bring more awareness and to take (the virus) seriously,” he said. “There is not much education on this. This is just so important, and it really means a lot.”

    The Loteria card game concept, which is also being designed by Beltran, is popular in Mexican culture, though he added a lot more needs to be developed for the card game to move forward.

    Beltran said he is not sure how long the billboards will be up but thinks they should remain as long as needed.

    Zimmer said a lot of the credit needs to go to the state, governor and other lawmakers who provided funding in efforts to connect with a Hispanic population isn’t necessarily easy to reach.

    “I think it’s important,” Zimmer said. “We have lots of la familia here. It’s a culture.”

    Zimmer, an El Centro resident, said he is all for educating the residents, including those who are not wearing a mask or face coverings.

    He said he knows a family that is all too familiar with what the community has faced when the daughter had the virus and only found out she was infected after passing it on to her parents.

    He said he also thinks there needs to be more education pertaining to Mexicali where families living in Mexico get tested and receive care in the county and pass the COVID-19 on to other people.

    Besides the posters and cards, Zimmer is going to have remote broadcasts at hotspots like the bus stations and Walmart while handing out free face coverings.

    “We need to help to educate people,” he said.

    Listos California’s partner, Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego, will begin working with local partners across Imperial County for further outreach and promotion of the ads for the card game.

    For more information, the public is asked to visit ListosCalifornia.org.

    Michael Maresh