LOS ANGELES — The walk to work fills Begonya De Salvo with dread. The translators work inside a 50-year-old courthouse that for three days last week had no hot water and no air filtration.

“I feel terrible. It’s a horrible feeling because you know you have to go — it’s your work but you feel like you are not protected,” De Salvo said outside the Clara Shortridge Foltz courthouse in downtown L.A. The building’s HVAC system at the moment was down and De Salvo was sitting outside to avoid unnecessary time in the building.

What You Need To Know

  • Courtroom translators want the ability to work remotely after two L.A. court employees die of COVID-19

  • Begonya De Salvo was among 17 translators exposed during an outbreak in December

  • The court's presiding judge said they have expanded remote audio and video access

  • Translators held a memorial on the steps of City Hall

De Salvo said she was among 17 translators exposed to COVID-19 in December but she was denied paid leave to isolate at home.

One translator from the group died weeks later from complications related to COVID-19. Fellow interpreters held a memorial for 56-year-old Sergio Calfaro outside City Hall and are advocating for change.

They want health screenings at the courthouse door, the ability to work remotely, and paid leave if they must quarantine.

“It’s insane. We have the technology to do remote hearings,” De Salvo said.

Judge Eric Taylor, who presides over L.A. County courthouses, released a statement mourning the recent deaths of two court employees.  

“With these losses, we are reminded of the devastating nature of this pandemic and its impact on our County. We are the largest court in the nation, and are reminded that every one of us who is dedicated to justice is precious,” Taylor said.

The court has invested in increased sanitation, protective equipment for employees, and expanded remote audio and video access while limiting the number of people coming to court, the statement said.

But to De Salvo, it’s still not enough.

“I feel like they don’t understand that this virus is airborne,” De Salvo said. It’s in the air and the air is recycled throughout the building.”

So for now, De Salvo is spending her breaks outside the courthouse, rather than sit in the interpreter’s lounge.

But once she gets the call to translate a hearing, she’ll have no choice but to head back inside.