by Agueda Pacheco Flores
A new study seeks to discover how many Latinos in Washington State are experiencing prolonged medical symptoms after a COVID-19 infection without realizing it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes long COVID as a series of ongoing and varied health problems, most apparent in people who have had a severe case of COVID-19. These aftershock symptoms can last weeks, months, or even years after the initial infection.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals locally and nationally found that Latinos were getting COVID-19 at disproportionately higher rates than their white counterparts. In Washington State, a 2022 study that looked at barriers with at-home testing in Native and Latino communities found that Latinos make up 13% of the population, but were 29% of all COVID cases. In the aftermath, little is known about long COVID in this community.
Dr. Leo Morales, professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine and codirector of the Latino Center for Health, has not seen as many Latinos seek help for long COVID. Based on what he’s observed on Washington State’s Department of Health’s COVID dashboard, rates of infection, hospitalization, and deaths remain high in the Latino population over time. Additionally, he said while Latinos had low rates of vaccination early on, they caught up during the middle of the pandemic. But more recently, when it comes to boosters and bivalent follow-up vaccines, Latinos again taper off.
He added, “So, the Latinx community is less likely to be boosted and less likely to have the bivalent vaccine.”
To him, this suggests the presence of long COVID in the Latino community is going severely unnoticed. He also points to UW Medicine’s Post-COVID Rehabilitation and Recovery Clinic.
“The best ways to protect against long COVID are not to get infected,” said Dr. Morales, “and if you do get infected, to be vaccinated.”
Dr. Janna Friedly is the executive director at the Post-COVID Rehabilitation and Recovery Clinic. She said the clinic is seeing 1,000 new patients yearly, but less than 5% of those patients are Latino.
Many other barriers also suggest long COVID is rampant in Latino communities. Latinos lack adequate access to care, for example, whether because they are underinsured or undocumented and because of the fear and stigma attached to that status. This means if they do catch COVID, it’s unlikely they will seek out Paxlovid treatments, which requires a prescription within five days of symptoms and is another line of defense against long COVID. Morales said because the illness is really like a syndrome, with a variety of complex symptoms, it can make it difficult for providers to recognize.
Sea Mar Community Health Centers, a nonprofit with more than 60 clinics across the state and whose patients are primarily low-income and 43% Latino, is not currently screening its patients for long COVID.
Morales has authored and coauthored multiple articles regarding COVID in Latino communities. He has already conducted one survey study in the past, which looked at which sources Latinos were turning to for information about COVID. Now, he’s again partnering with Sea Mar as well as the Allen Institute for Immunology and the Yakima Farm Workers Clinics to figure out how many Latinos have long COVID in the state.
Rahab Mugwanja, a representative for Sea Mar, said the leadership team hopes Morales’ study will help guide the organization in what interventions it can implement in the future to address long COVID.
Later this spring, with the help of his partners, Morales plans to send out 8,000 surveys to Latinos across the state, targeting older people and women in particular, who he says tend to be more at risk of long COVID. He hopes to have at least a 20% response rate.
Until then, Morales is looking ahead to the changing public health landscape and how that will affect the public’s dynamic with COVID. He points to this time as a transitional period, because the national health care emergency is ending and funding will be impacted moving forward.
“I understand that people are tired of COVID, we don’t want to deal with COVID anymore, but COVID is not done with us,” he said. “This is the echo of the pandemic, long COVD is what’s gonna be with us for many, many years. People are going to be dealing with the consequences for a long time, and we need to get organized about it, and right now things are not clear.”
Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco Flores is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.
📸 Featured Image: Photo via FGC/Shutterstock.com
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