Washington, D.C. May 18th, 2020 — Today, the Equal Rights Center (ERC), a civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C., released a new report based on a civil rights testing investigation designed to identify language access barriers that exist in relation to information about COVID-19 testing. The investigation revealed significant concerns about language barriers to COVID-19 testing information for Limited English Proficient (LEP”) individuals in the greater Washington, D.C. region. Overall, non-English-speaking testers only received language interpretation in 65% of calls they made to obtain information about COVID-19 testing.  

Most experts agree widespread testing for the virus must be a core component of any successful public health effort to control the pandemic. As such, ensuring that everyone who might be infected has access to information about testing for the virus should be a public health priority. Navigating a Pandemic: When “English Only” Threatens Public Health raises concerns about whether the current state of language access to such information is sufficient to yield a successful public health response to the threat that the novel coronavirus poses to the area and provides a series of recommendations to address barriers to language access. 2018 Census data shows that 10.5% of people living in the D.C. Metropolitan Area speak a language other than English and speak English less than “very well”.  

In April and May 2020, the ERC used matched pair style testing to ascertain whether LEP individuals in the Washington, D.C. region were able to obtain information about COVID- 19 testing using resources published by local governments and major media outlets. During each test, an English-speaking tester, a Spanish-speaking tester, and a tester speaking another language (Korean or Amharic) attempted to contact a site until they reached a live employee. Non-Englishspeaking testers received interpretation in only 65% of calls. Spanish-speaking testers received interpretation in 76% of calls, while testers who spoke other languages (Amharic or Korean) received interpretation in only 54% of calls. Hospitals provided interpretation in a mere 44% of test calls.  

“Navigating healthcare can feel like a maze in the best circumstances, and during this pandemic it can mean the difference between flattening the curve and creating a new hot spot of infection,” said ERC Executive Director Kate Scott. “If LEP individuals are unable to obtain information about COVID-19 testing, we’re all at greater risk. 

The report concludes by issuing a set of three easy to implement recommendations to ensure that entities likely to receive inquiries from the public about COVID-19 testing adequately meet the language access needs of the communities they serve.   

You can access the full report here. 


Sian Leach
External Affairs Manager
713.320.1701 (cell)  


ABOUT THE EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER: The ERC is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington DC and nationwide. The ERC’s core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is civil rights testing. When the ERC identifies discrimination, it seeks to eliminate it through the use of testing data to educate the public and business community, support policy advocacy, conduct compliance testing and training, and, if necessary, take enforcement action. For more information, please visit 

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