Survey to study long COVID impact on Latino communities

Media Contact: Susan Gregg,

The Latino Center for Health at the University of Washington will lead a study to understand the extent and impact long COVID is having on the state’s Latino communities. 

The survey will be done in partnership with SeaMar Community Health Centers and the Yakima Farmer Workers Clinics, which have served the state’s Latino communities for may years, and the Allen Institute for Immunology.

“With this survey we hope to determine how many members of the Latino community are currently affected by long COVID and how it is impacting their health and well-being,” said study leader Dr. Leo Morales, professor of medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, assistant dean of the UW School of Medicine and co-director of the Latino Center for Health. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinos have the highest rates of long COVID. Some 9% of Hispanic adults report symptoms, compared to 7.5% among U.S. adults overall.   

“Since the onset of the pandemic, Latino communities in Washington state have had higher rates of COVID infection than the general population, higher rates of hospitalization and higher rates of mortality on an age-adjusted basis,” Morales noted. “Yet we are not seeing many people from Latino communities showing up in our long-COVID clinics.”

“Many Latinos may not be aware of the symptoms of long COVID,” Morales said. “I suspect that a lot of people in Latino communities don’t know they have long COVID. They’re feeling badly, they’re having problems with fatigue or brain fog; they’re just not doing well, but they don’t exactly know why. Helping people understand what is going on and guiding them to evaluation and treatment is important.”

Access to care is also a major challenge for many in these communities, Morales added: “Latino patients are often low income, many lack insurance, and often they cannot afford to take time off work to seek medical care.”

“In many parts of eastern Washington you may not have a provider near you,” Morales said. “You may have to travel a day to be seen. Even if there is a provider near you, the next available appointment may not be timely.”

The survey study will focus on Latinos over 18 years of age and older who have had a positive COVID test. The survey’s questionnaire will include questions about long COVID symptoms, the respondents' medical history, whether they received the COVID vaccine, their physical and mental health, and their social and economic situations. 

The survey will use the World Health Organization’s definition for long COVID. Under this definition, a long-COVID case is defined by symptoms that began within 3 months of a probable or confirmed case of infection, have persisted for at least 2 months, and cannot be explained by another diagnosis. Common long-COVID symptoms include fatigue, fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and problems with memory and thinking, often called “brain fog.”

The survey will also ask participants if they would be interested in participating in a follow-on clinical study, which is being planned in collaboration with the Allen Institute. That study will examine the roles the immune system and health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes that are more common in the Latino population, might play in long COVID.

Morales said he hopes the project’s findings will not only help improve care of Latino individuals affected by long COVID, but also help guide policymakers to develop appropriate long-COVID services to the Latino community. 

“Long COVD remains an under-recognized problem in Latino communties,” Morales said. “We’re currently seeing only the tip of the iceberg. But it’s a major aspect of this pandemic, and it’s something we’re going to have to deal with for years to come.”

written by Michael McCarthy

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