Major disparities in COVID-19 test positivity for patients with non-English preferred language even after accounting for race and social factors in the United States in 2020.

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Publication Date


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BMC public health [electronic resource]


cards publication; covid-19; oregon; portland; psjh_core; Adult; COVID-19; Ethnicity; Humans; Language; Pandemics; Retrospective Studies; SARS-CoV-2; Social Factors; United States


BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed inequities in our society, demonstrated by disproportionate COVID-19 infection rate and mortality in communities of color and low-income communities. One key area of inequity that has yet to be explored is disparities based on preferred language.

METHODS: We conducted a retrospective cohort study of 164,368 adults tested for COVID-19 in a large healthcare system across Washington, Oregon, and California from March - July 2020. Using electronic health records, we constructed multi-level models that estimated the odds of testing positive for COVID-19 by preferred language, adjusting for age, race/ethnicity, and social factors. We further investigated interaction between preferred language and both race/ethnicity and state. Analysis was performed from October-December 2020.

RESULTS: Those whose preferred language was not English had higher odds of having a COVID-19 positive test (OR 3.07, p < 0.001); this association remained significant after adjusting for age, race/ethnicity, and social factors. We found significant interaction between language and race/ethnicity and language and state, but the odds of COVID-19 test positivity remained greater for those whose preferred language was not English compared to those whose preferred language was English within each race/ethnicity and state.

CONCLUSIONS: People whose preferred language is not English are at greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 regardless of age, race/ethnicity, geography, or social factors - demonstrating a significant inequity. Research demonstrates that our public health and healthcare systems are centered on English speakers, creating structural and systemic barriers to health. Addressing these barriers are long overdue and urgent for COVID-19 prevention.


Infectious Diseases