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Lower-income communities tested less despite higher COVID-19 rates, study says

Lower-income communities tested less despite higher COVID-19 rates, study says
Access to COVID-19 testing in the United States varies based on community income status, a new study shows. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 9 (UPI) -- People in lower-income communities in Massachusetts received fewer COVID-19 tests than those in more affluent areas during the first wave of the pandemic, despite higher rates of infection in these at-risk regions, a study published Tuesday by JAMA Network Open found.

While testing has generally been increased in areas with high rates of COVID-19 infection, the data shows that in communities with lower socioeconomic status, testing rates were about one-third lower than in communities with higher socioeconomic status, the data showed.

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Many of the communities with testing "gaps" had high non-English-speaking populations, which likely affected access to testing services.

Although the analysis focused on COVID-19 testing efforts in Massachusetts between May 27 and Oct. 14 last year, the findings also could reflect national trends, researchers said.

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"Limited testing resources have been disproportionately allocated to more affluent communities," study co-author Dr. Scott Dryden-Peterson told UPI.

"To achieve longstanding epidemic control, increased investment in the development of longstanding, trusted testing locations in socioeconomically vulnerable communities is needed," said Dryden-Peterson, an infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Communities of color and lower socioeconomic status have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with significantly higher rates of infection than more affluent areas, studies have found.

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Many of these at-risk regions have poorly funded healthcare infrastructure, limiting access to care services, including virus testing, according to researchers.

Since vaccines against the virus became available in December, experts have raised concerns over equitable distribution of the shots, particularly within these at-risk communities.

On Tuesday, CommuniVax, a group dedicated to equitable vaccine rollout, released a new report calling on state and local health officials to, among other steps, collaborate with Black, Indigenous and People of Color, or BIPOC, community representatives and "leverage the vaccination process as an opportunity for economic revitalization in BIPOC communities."

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For this study, Dryden-Peterson and his colleagues compared testing rates in communities across Massachusetts between May 27 and Oct. 14, 2020, the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

During that period, nearly 4.3 million coronavirus tests were performed, though testing rates "varied considerably between communities

Testing rates were higher "in less socioeconomically vulnerable localities, vacation regions and areas near universities," the researchers said.

Conversely, communities "with the highest socioeconomic vulnerability" had larger gaps between infection and testing rates, and these gaps increased by an average of 9% per week over the study period.

"We found that systemic disparity in testing impaired our ability to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 in Massachusetts," Dryden-Peterson said.

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