Expanded COVID-19 Testing Criteria Addresses Disparities

The Malheur County Health Department (MCHD) is following new Oregon Health Authority (OHA) revised COVID-19 testing guidelines to prioritize underserved populations and improve equity. The new criteria include expanded symptoms and testing for people without symptoms who are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. The Malheur County COVID-19 Taskforce offers free testing to individuals who meet the revised criteria at several upcoming drive up testing sites.

Please share these bilingual flyers for the upcoming drive-up test sites:

Expanded Criteria

If you have any of the following symptoms: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever or chills, vomiting, diarrhea, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell, you should isolate at home, call your health care provider, and get tested.

If you identify as Black, African-American, Latino, Latina, Latinx, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Asian-American or Pacific Islander, identify as having a disability or if your first language is not English, you are encouraged to get tested.

Addressing Disparities

In the most recent OHA Weekly Update, the severity and rates of COVID-19 by race and ethnicity were reported:

  • Race: White: Cases per 10,000: 7.1
  • Race: Black: Cases per 10,000: 26.1
  • Race: Asian: Cases per 10,000: 12
  • Race: American Indian: Cases per 10,000: 26.3
  • Race: Pacific Islander: Cases per 10,000: 78.3
  • Ethnicity: Hispanic: Cases per 10,000: 37.2
  • Ethnicity: Non-Hispanic: Cases per 10,000: 8.3

MCHD is committed to reducing inequalities and promoting precautions that will protect everyone in Malheur County. Communities of color are being hit tremendously hard by COVID-19. The reason people are encouraged to be tested, even without symptoms, is because of the disparities experienced by groups that have been disproportionately affected during the pandemic. In an effort to provide equitable care, more access to testing is needed for those who experience health, economic, and social conditions that put them at higher risk for contracting the virus and of developing more severe illness or death.

It is helpful to note that race is a self-identification of a social group, according to the U.S. Census. Race has a long history of being used to divide members of society and it is worthwhile to keep in context that disparities exist because of historic discrimination, collective and transgenerational trauma, and continued inequities.

In Malheur County, we are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Sixteen percent of our population has a disability and 38.6% identify as not-white, not-Hispanic. People who identify as Hispanic make up 13% of the population of Oregon, yet represent 40% of cases. Idaho is reporting similar disparities. With high rates of chronic health conditions, poverty, drug use, and housing units with more people than rooms, the impact of COVID-19 has exacerbated the negative social determinants of health that diminish our community well-being.

“We know that these racial ethnic disparities in COVID-19 are the result of pre-pandemic realities. It’s a legacy of structural discrimination that has limited access to health and wealth for people of color,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine. People of color have higher rates of underlying conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease, that are linked to more severe cases of COVID-19. They also often have less access to quality health care, and are disproportionately represented in essential frontline jobs that can’t be done from home, increasing their exposure to the virus.

The Oregon public health response addresses disparities. Contact Tracers help to meet basic needs of those who are isolated or quarantined because of COVID-19, including connection to resources for food, wage support, and temporary housing when needed. Local Community Based Organizations, other county departments, and health care providers are also building trust, sharing culturally responsive resources in multiple languages, and providing wrap around services for those in need.

It is critical that the public not use this information to stigmatize any part of the population. COVID-19 is not an “Us vs. Them” problem as the impacts have reached all parts of public life and it is only through collective impact that we will improve the health outcomes for all. We’re a better country when we make sure everyone has a chance to meet their potential. We’re a country founded on the ideals of opportunity and equality and we have a real responsibility to live up to those values. Health disparities are an injury to our values and we need to do everything in our power to provide equity and build a stronger community.

Sources and Recommended Reading:


2 thoughts on “Expanded COVID-19 Testing Criteria Addresses Disparities

  1. My husband has MS. We would Luke to get him tested this Wednesday, July 1st at the Fairgrounds. What do I need to do to get him tested?


    • Michelle, Just bring him to the fairgrounds by car between 10 and 2 p.m. Note the eligibility, which requires symptoms, or that the person identifies as a person of color, have a disability, are a agricultural worker new to Oregon, or speak English as a second language. Call our office at 541-889-7279 if we have more questions. Thank you!

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