OHA releases report adding to data on racial disparities in COVID-19 testing and treatment

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) released a report on Friday detailing the racial inequities and language barriers of  COVID-19 care. The report found a significant “inequitable impact” of cases and health care resources amongst many underprivileged communities. 

Hispanics and African Americans were disproportionately impacted, according to study with less access to health care providers and reliable testing. According to the report:

“People who identify as Hispanic and Latin/o/a/x, Black and African American, American Indian and Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander have all been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.”


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In October 2020, the Oregon state legislature passed a law requiring health care providers to collect race, ethnicity, language and disability (REALD) information at visits relating to COVID-19. This data is shared with the OHA to confirm the lives disparities of many underprivileged Oregonians. 

The data collected breaks down into COVID-19 cases and encounters. Cases refers to people who have received positive tests and have been interviewed by OHA case investigators for the report. Encounters refers to health care providers’ encounters with patients which is related to COVID-19. Encounters can sometimes include cases. 

The report highlights that more cases than encounters were found for Hispanic individuals, which shows potential insufficient access to testing and health care resources. According to OHA, Hispanic individuals represented 28.4% of cases, but only 9.8% of encounters, which is the largest racial gap in cases and encounters. 

Other underprivileged communities show a percentage of cases over the percentage of encounters, while white populations represent roughly the same percentage of cases and encounters. 

The report also found the importance of language barriers in accessing tests and health care. In COVID cases, about 43% preferred to speak English with a health care professional , but for health care encounters reported by providers, 80% were English speakers. This potentially shows the ease of access of services for English speakers and significance of the language barrier in terms of providing care for those that need it. 

Over one hundred non-English language preferences were found while interviewing cases and reporting on encounters, which makes it challenging to interview people and understand how disparities affect their lives in health care. 

Lastly, more encounters than cases were found for those who acquired a disability either before age 19 or at 50 and older. This may reflect coordinated testing efforts for those communities and not other potentially vulnerable disabled communities.