SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's communities of color have some of the lowest testing rates for COVID-19, which has led to higher rates of infection in those communities. Marco Verdeja, a community health specialist with Intermountain Healthcare, said it was an issue that was seen early on in the pandemic.
"Around March and April, we had rates of infection of cases that were double, or almost triple, the population that we had here in Utah for Latinos for example," Verdeja said.
He said the lack of testing is due in part to the fact that communities of color tend to have limited access to healthcare resources.
"There's this hesitancy of reaching for access, but there is also a lack of access," Verdeja said.
He added that affordability is another factor for the lack of testing.
"Our responsibility is to allow people to know where they can go where there is no cost," he said.
Both Utah's Latino and Pacific Islander communities have seen this testing discrepancy firsthand. According to the Utah Department of Health, Latinos make up 12% of total tests administered, but have a positivity rate of 27.6%. Utah's Pacific Islanders account for only 1.4% of tests, and lead positivity rates at just under 28%.
To increase access, Intermountain has begun using mobile testing units which bring testing centers directly to the community.
"We took those mobile testing units and we targeted specifically areas where we saw that there were a larger population of affected individuals," Verdeja said. "Intermountain has never asked for insurance if you don't have it, or has not given the test if you can't afford it."
Verdeja said increasing access and providing equitable care increases trust in the healthcare system, which can help combat the hesitancy to seek care he referred to in communities of color.
"Particularly with vaccinations coming shortly, that trust is very needed," he added. "We need to go from getting ourselves tested, all the way to getting out of this pandemic together."
Ultimately, Verdeja wants people to know that Intermountain is working to help test everyone in the community.
"It's available in any language, if it's English and Spanish that's not a barrier," he said. "And that if your uninsured that's also not a barrier."
Intermountain Healthcare has resources in both Spanish and English on its website. They encourage the community to use the website to learn more about the virus, and to learn where you can find available testing locations in your area.