Non-English speakers were slightly less likely to get tested for the novel coronavirus but more than four-and-a-half times more likely to test positive, according to a study from a team of researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
The study, published on the open-access Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open website on Thursday, looked at the nearly 31,000 patients who were tested in the University of Washington’s three affiliated hospitals and 300 associated clinics in the Puget Sound area out of more than 500,000 who came through the system between Feb. 29 and May 31. Of those, 1,869 did not speak English.
The researchers said that while 5.5% English-speaking patients were tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the respiratory illness coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19), only 4.7% on non-English speakers were tested.
However, of those that were tested, 18.6% of non-English speakers were positive for the virus compared to 4% of English-speaking patients.
The authors of the study said they could not specify the regions for the different infection rates, however, it cited previous studies in its introduction to suggest possible reasons.
“Immigrants may be more susceptible to exposure because more of them work in essential industries or reside in larger multigenerational households,” it said. “Limited English language proficiency (LEP) or low health literacy can present challenges to effective communication about disease transmission. Worries about stigma, deportation, or livelihood may supersede those of a health threat, however serious.”
Among those who tested positive, people who spoke Cambodian/Khmer had the highest rate of infection, 26.9%; followed by Spanish, 25.1%; and Amharic – a language spoken predominantly in Ethiopia, 23.3%.
Eleven different languages were listed, with Chinese (Mandarin) and Arabic having the lowest infection rates, 6.1% and 3.1% respectively.
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