High Rates of COVID-19 Infection Among Indigenous Maya at a US Safety-Net Health System in California

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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has disproportionately and negatively affected communities of color in the United States, especially Black, Latinx, and Indigenous populations. We report a cluster of COVID-19 cases among the Maya in Alameda County, California, most of whom were misclassified in public health data as nonindigenous Spanish-speaking people. We conducted a retrospective cohort study of all COVID-19 tests performed from April 1 through May 31, 2020, at Alameda Health System. A total of 1561 tests from 1533 patients were performed, with an overall test positivity rate of 17.0% (N = 265). We used the language field from the electronic health record to identify 29 patients as speaking an indigenous Mayan language; by medical record review, we identified 52 additional Maya patients. Maya patients had a test positivity rate of 72.8% as compared with 27.1% (P <.001) for nonindigenous Latinx patients and 8.2% (P <.001) for all other patients. In our sample, 39.6% of patients who had a positive test result for COVID-19 were hospitalized, 11.3% required admission to the intensive care unit (ICU), and 4.9% died of COVID-19. Maya patients had lower rates of hospitalization, ICU admission, and 30-day in-hospital mortality than non-Maya patients. We shared our data with the county health department to inform responses for education, testing, and isolation for Maya patients in Alameda County. Ongoing COVID-19 public health efforts should assess the community prevalence of COVID-19 in the Maya community and other indigenous communities and implement interventions that are linguistically and culturally appropriate.

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